Saturday 20 December 2014

Obama heading to shooting memorial

Published 16/12/2012 | 02:09

Mourners gather for a candlelight vigil at Ram's Pasture in Newtown, Connecticut, to remember shooting victims (AP)
President Barack Obama will attend a memorial for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (AP)

US president Barack Obama will travel to Newtown in Connecticut to attend a memorial service in memory of 26 people shot dead in the town's primary school on Friday.

In one of America's worst school shootings, gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 children, all first graders aged six or seven, who were shot up to 11 times each. Alongside the eight boys and 12 girls, he also killed six women, including school head Dawn Hochsprung, before turning the gun on himself.

Mr Obama's visit to Newtown for an interfaith vigil on Sunday will be the fourth time he has travelled to a city after a mass shooting. The bloodbath brought despair and horror to the smalltown community, 60 miles north-east of New York City, preparing for the Christmas holidays.

Investigators are trying to learn more about the 20-year-old killer who launched his rampage at the school after first killing his mother at their Newtown home. His girlfriend and another friend are still missing in New Jersey, a police source said.

The father of the gunman has spoken about his family's struggle to understand what happened. Peter Lanza said in a statement that "our family is grieving along with all those who have been affected by this enormous tragedy". He added: "No words can truly express how heartbroken we are," and that relatives are "in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can".

Tales have begun to emerge of heroism by teachers and other staff to protect the children. Young teacher Victoria Soto was shot dead when she put herself between the gunman and her pupils, whom she was trying to hide in a closet, reports said.

Though details of the 27-year-old teacher's death remain unclear, her cousin, Jim Wiltsie, told ABC News that investigators told his family she was killed while shielding her students from danger. He said: "She was trying to shield, get her children into a closet and protect them from harm. And by doing that, put herself between the gunman and the children. She lost her life doing what she loved."

Ms Hochsprung reportedly lunged at Lanza before being shot. Board of Education chairwoman Debbie Liedlien said administrators were coming out of a meeting when the gunman forced his way into the school, and they ran toward him. Jeff Capeci, chairman of the town's legislative council, was asked whether Ms Hochsprung was a hero. He replied: "From what we know, it's hard to classify her as anything else."

Robbie Parker, the father of six-year-old victim Emilie Parker, described her as an "exceptional artist" who was "bright, creative and very loving". Fighting back tears, he said: "My daughter Emilie would have been one of the first ones to be standing and giving her love and support to all those victims, because that's the type of person she is. As the deep pain begins to settle into our hearts, we find comfort reflecting on the incredible person Emilie was and how many lives she was able to touch in her short time here on earth."

Police in Newtown on Saturday night released the names of the 26 people killed in the massacre on Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School which has rocked the United States and reignited the country's gun control debate. Connecticut's chief medical examiner H Wayne Carver II told a press conference all the children killed were shot more than once, with the ones he examined personally shot between three and 11 times.

Press Association

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