Twenty-six candles burned on the altar of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, Connecticut, each for a victim of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
A few hundred residents attended the vigil last night, crowding into the aisles and listening at open windows because there wasn’t enough space inside. A somber crowd heard Monsignor Robert Weiss read a note from Pope Benedict XVI expressing “heartfelt grief” as Weiss spoke about two girls killed in the attack. One had just purchased a dress for her first communion, the other was due to play an angel in a Christmas play.
“Where do you turn on a day like this?” Weiss said. “You turn to God. Why? Because there’s nowhere else to go.”
The town of 28,000, with well-manicured lawns and large homes decorated for Christmas, was struggling to make sense of the rampage that killed 20 children and six adults -- plus the shooter, who took his own life. It was the second-worst mass shooting in U.S. history, sowing grief in a community still waiting to learn the names of the victims and any clue to the motive of the gunman, who committed suicide.
It was the latest in a deadly year for gun violence, coming three days after a man opened fired in a suburban Oregon shopping mall and following mass attacks in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and a movie theater in Colorado.
Gay Engelberger, 56, a lifelong resident of Newtown, sat with her television tuned to reports.
“It’s a bucolic little town with the flag flying at half-mast on main street,” she said. “It’s not the kind of town where these kinds of thing happen.”
Adam Lanza, 20, was identified as the suspect, according to a law-enforcement official briefed on the matter who asked for anonymity because of the continuing investigation. Police are also investigating what the Associated Press reported is the related death of Lanza’s mother, who was killed at her home before the school attack and would be the 28th to die yesterday.
News of the mayhem spread shortly after 9:30 a.m., when police received a call from the elementary school, attended by children from kindergarten through the fourth grade.
Ben Herbstman said his 6-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son were listening to the morning announcement when they heard a scream and gunfire over the school’s intercom.
The teacher in his daughter’s second-grade class told the students to close their eyes as they fled through the hallway. His daughter didn’t heed the advice and saw bodies lying in the hall, Herbstman said.
“It’s been a horrible day,” he said. “You just can’t imagine.”
The suspect is believed to suffer from a personality disorder, according to AP, which cited a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation who wasn’t authorized to discuss it.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said the killing underscores the need to take action to stop such violence.
At the service at St. Rose of Lima Church, a few cried and others sat silently through the songs at the service. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Governor Dannel Malloy, the state’s leading Democratic officials, spoke.
“We have our faith for a reason,” Malloy said. “When the unthinkable happens in our very midst,” he said, “our faith is tested.”
Weiss said they may never be able to make sense of the day’s events. “No answer will ever come to us,” he said.