President Barack Obama spoke of a town’s fathomless pain and a nation’s sorrow after meeting with families of the victims of the massacre of children and teachers in a Connecticut school.
Obama’s visit tonight to Newtown, a community of 28,000, marked the fourth time during his presidency he has gone to a city to console relatives after a mass shooting, this one the second-deadliest in U.S. history. This time, he faces unprecedented pressure to address gun control, yet he offered no specific cures for what he called “carnage.”
“I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation,” Obama said at a memorial tonight at Newtown High School. “I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts.”
Hours before the president’s remarks to town residents and the nation, Connecticut State Police Lieutenant Paul Vance told reporters that detectives are tracing the origins of the firearms used to kill 28 people, including the gunman, who took his own life. The shooter had hundreds of rounds left, Vance said.
Obama’s visit came two days after the Dec. 14 killings by the gunman, whom Vance identified as Adam Lanza. The incident, which also left the suspect’s mother, Nancy, 52, dead at the family home nearby, brought worldwide attention to the town about 60 miles (97 kilometers) northeast of New York City and plunged residents into despair.
As the president spoke for about 20 minutes, sobs broke out in the front rows. He addressed a packed auditorium after religious leaders and the state’s Democratic governor, Dannel Malloy.
“We needed to be together in this room,” the Reverend Matt Crebbin, senior minister at Newton Congregational Church, said in opening remarks for the memorial, which lasted about 90 minutes. “Now more than ever we need each other, because we are all in this together.”
All 26 children and adults killed at the school were shot more than once, and some as many as 11 times, according to H. Wayne Carver II, the state’s medical examiner. The victims ranged in age from 6 to 56. The children -- 12 girls and eight boys -- were all 6 or 7 years old, and the adults were all women.
It was the worst U.S. massacre since 33 people died in a 2007 rampage at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. This year, there have been at least seven mass murders -- killings of four or more people - - that claimed at least 65 lives in the U.S.
This month, three died when a gunman opened fire inside a mall in suburban Portland, Oregon. In August, a shooter took six lives at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. In July, a masked gunman opened fire at a midnight movie in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 and injuring 58.
“There have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America,” Obama said. “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end.”
In Newtown, the most recent mass murder began about 9:30 a.m. Dec. 14. Police received a call from the school, attended by about 700 children in kindergarten through fourth grade, after the gunman forced his way inside, Vance said.
A survivor of the attack, school nurse Sally Cox said in an interview that aired tonight on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that exterior doors are locked at 9:15 a.m., five minutes after the Pledge of Allegiance. The school installed cameras at the entrance four or five years ago, she said.
“When people come, they have to buzz,” Cox said. Adam Lanza shot out a window, she said, though she wasn’t sure what the sounds were at the time. She and a secretary ducked beneath their desks, and Lanza walked into their office. Peering through a hole cut in the desk to accommodate electronics cords, Cox said, she saw his legs come to a stop. He walked back out, and moments later she heard screams and more shots.
“The town is full of grief and is desperate for some hope,” Curt Brantl, a father of three, whose fourth-grade daughter was in the school’s library during the attack, said in an interview at the high school tonight. “Funerals are starting tomorrow. That’s going to be hard.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg led a chorus of gun-control advocates calling for new and stricter gun laws.
Obama hasn’t made enough of an effort to ban ownership of assault weapons and restrict gun sales to criminals and mentally ill buyers, he said. The mayor, who is co-chairman of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.
The president said tonight that he would use his office to engage Americans in an effort to prevent more such massacres, though he didn’t offer concrete measures.
“We can’t accept events like this as routine,” he said. “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage?”
Nancy Lanza was the first to die after suffering multiple gunshots to the head, said Kathy Wilson, an investigator at the state medical examiner’s office. The guns used in the shootings belonged to her, according to a law-enforcement official who asked for anonymity because of a continuing investigation.
Adam Lanza was “on medication,” Louise Tambascio, a friend of Nancy Lanza for 12 years, told CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” tonight. The mother didn’t work and she home-schooled her younger son, she said.
Nancy Lanza and her husband divorced in 2009, court records show. Tambascio, 70, who is also owner of My Place, a restaurant where the suspect’s brother used to work, described Adam Lanza in an interview with Bloomberg News as intelligent, quiet and awkward.
The killer, seen in a picture published by NBC News staring wide-eyed into a camera beneath brown bangs, attempted to buy at least one gun before the shooting, said a federal law-enforcement official who asked for anonymity because the investigation was continuing.