NEW HAVEN_After a candlight vigil for victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Lolly Berger places her candle with others on the Green.
NEW HAVEN_After a candlight vigil for victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Lolly Berger places her candle with others on the Green. Green has a Masters of Social Work and has a web site Lovect.com Melanie Stengel/Register
NEWTOWN, Conn. - Nearly three days after a devastating elementary school shooting that killed 20 first-graders, residents in this close-knit New England town visited makeshift memorials and attended Sunday church services as the nation's attention turned to a swirling debate over gun control and mental health.

President Obama came to visit, a rarity in Connecticut that boosted spirits ever so slightly on what otherwise was a solemn, gray and rainy day in picturesque Newtown. Funeral announcements trickled out, at least one local flower shop ran out of flowers, and the school district announced the surviving children would return to school in a temporary building on Wednesday.

Crowds gathered to welcome him and to try to gain entrance to Newtown High School's auditorium where a multi-faith vigil was held. Obama said that the heroic teachers and children of Sandy Hook Elementary School responded as we all hope we would, but, apparently alluding to the gun and mental health care debates, said that the nation is not doing enough to protect its children.

"Are we prepared to say that such violence visited upon our children, year after year, is somehow the price of our freedom?" Obama asked as many in the audience cried. "We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this."


Advertisement

The speech was given hours before the beginning of the first day of school since the massacre, and the mayor of nearby Danbury, Conn. announced a police officer would be posted at every elementary school on Monday morning, and other towns did the same. School security plans were re-examined as anxious parents thought twice all over again.

"I actually am very worried," said parent Megan Ifill, who lives in nearby New Haven and has two school-aged children. "There are so many troubled people out there."

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., further stoked the gun debate that has been raging since the shooting by promising to introduce an assault-weapons ban on the first day of the new Congress. Since the previous ban expired in 2004, a dozen unsuccessful attempts have been made to reinstate it.

Gun rights advocates like Scott Wilson, head of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group, said they hoped the debate over gun control could wait: "Right now, we wish to express our heartfelt sympathies to the families, victims and people of Newtown, Conn."

Amid the renewed debate, makeshift memorials for the 27 dead - eight boys, 12 girls and seven women - sprouted up all over, and out-of-state visitors with no connection to the town or the dead came to pay their respects. The mourning was disrupted momentarily by more chaos when St. Rose of Lima's church was evacuated in the middle of mass after someone called the church, telling a priest "I'm coming to kill, I'm coming to kill."

Authorities announced Sunday that the alleged shooter's mother, Nancy Lanza, died of four gunshots to her head while she slept Friday morning. Police sources said suspect Adam Lanza took his mother's car and guns that may have belonged to her to the school. There, he fired through the school's glass door to get inside and was met by the school's principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and school psychologist, Mary Scherlach, whom he promptly shot to death. The Hartford Courant reported he then turned left, bypassed one classroom full of students and entered another, shooting and killing all 14 children and two teachers inside. 

"There were 14 coats hanging there and 14 bodies. He killed them all," an unnamed law enforcement officer told the Courant.

Next, the gunman moved on to teacher Victoria Soto's classroom, where she and six children became victims of a chilling episode of randomness. Seven of Soto's pupils made it into a closet unharmed, the Courant reported. Police began to arrive, and Adam Lanza shot himself in the head.

State Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver said all of the dead were struck more than once, and most were killed by bullets from the assault rifle Lanza was carrying. Hundreds of unused bullets were also found at the school. Carver's staff worked overnight on Friday to autopsy all of the children.

"More than one person stepped out for a while to sit in the locker room and cry but we all stuck it out 'till the end," he said.

The staggering list of the names of the dead was being poured over Sunday as Internet memorials popped up for many of the victims. They included Hochsprung, school psychologist Sherloch, and four teachers who were called heroes. Many families of the dead, especially those with dead children, quickly issued statements asking the media for privacy, and still others talked with reporters about their grief for their lost children, including the father of Emilie Parker, who gave a tearful message to cameras on Saturday: "I'm so blessed to be her dad," he said.

The shooting Friday began just after 9:30 a.m. in the school about 60 miles northeast of New York City, setting off a nightmarish scene in which hundreds of students and teachers hid under desks and in closets, some too scared to unlock doors even for the police. Children were told to close their eyes as they were led out of the school past bodies.

"I told them that I loved them and that they would be OK," said one of the teachers who locked the door to her classroom when the shooting began. Some teachers said they told cowering students that there were bad guys in the building, and they needed to wait for the good guys.

The toll at Sandy Hook - 26 students and adults - made it the nation's second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, where 32 were killed.

A number of reports have changed since the shooting began. In early and widespread confusion, Adam Lanza's brother, Ryan, was initially named as the shooter by unnamed police sources. There were also multiple reports that Nancy Lanza worked in some capacity at the school, but doubt was cast on those reports Saturday afternoon and officials told the Associated Press they haven't established a connection between his mother and the school. Connecticut's governor said he believed Adam Lanza attended the school at one point, but police have not confirmed. They may be investigating whether Lanza had an altercation with staffers at the school on Thursday, NBC News reported, but police have not confirmed.

Police Lt. J. Paul Vance warned that incorrect information about the shootings was being distributed, including purposefully fraudulent photos that he promised police would pursue as criminal activity.

"All information relative to this case is coming from these microphones, and any information coming from other sources cannot be confirmed and is found in many cases to be inaccurate," Vance said.

Authorities have offered few official details on exactly how the attack unfolded, saying they planned to reveal a motive later. But police radio traffic indicated the shooting lasted only a few minutes before police arrived. A custodian ran through the halls warning of a gunman on the loose, and someone switched on the intercom, alerting people in the building to the attack - and perhaps saving many lives - by letting them hear the hysteria going on in the school office, a teacher said. Later, multiple guns were found, among them a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both pistols, inside the school, and a .223-caliber rifle in the back of a car. Vance said at a Saturday morning news conference that investigators were tracking the history of the weapons and there were multiple media reports that the guns were registered to Nancy Lanza. There were reports that Lanza might have tried to buy a rifle several days before the shooting, but did not succeed.

A law enforcement official said Adam Lanza was known to have some kind of personality disorder and was possibly on the autism spectrum, but he did not have a criminal record. His older brother, 24-year-old Ryan Lanza of Hoboken, N.J., was questioned but was not believed to have any involvement in the rampage. Investigators still were searching his computers and phone records.

The elder brother told law enforcement he had not been in touch with the alleged shooter since about 2010. Peter Lanza, the father of Adam and Ryan, was informed about the shooting Friday afternoon by a reporter who was waiting outside his home in nearby Stamford. He and Nancy Lanza filed for divorce in 2008. On Saturday night, he released a statement saying he and his family were grieving for the victims.

"Our family is grieving along with all those who have been affected by this enormous tragedy. No words can truly express how heartbroken we are. We, too, are asking why," he wrote.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who was the one to tell some of the parents that their children were dead, broached the simmering gun issue on Sunday morning.

"We're unfortunately a violent society," he said on "Meet the Press." "We don't treat the mentally ill well. We don't reach out to families that are in trouble particularly well. We allowed the assault weapons ban to lapse. There are lots of issues that need to be taken on as a society. Having said that, [Connecticut has] laws that are more aggressive than most states."

On Sunday at church services in Newtown, the Rev. Robert Weiss announced that practice for St. Rose of Lima's church Christmas pageant would continue even though one of the children who was scheduled to play an angel was killed Friday.

At another service at the Newtown United Methodist Church, the Rev. Mel Kawakami said he was angry.

"We've seen this before. We must forgive like before," he said. "But I'm not sure if I'm there yet. The tears are still fresh. The pain is still raw."