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Bodies removed from US school

The bodies of 20 young children and six adults massacred by a lone gunman in a quiet US town were finally removed from the blood-soaked school yesterday, police said.

The 28th body was the shooter’s mother, who was a teacher at Sandy Hook and whom he had killed before driving to the school

The formal identification of the victims in one of America’s worst mass shootings marked a new chapter for horrified residents of Newtown, Connecticut, where on Friday morning a 20-year-old man walked in with at least two powerful pistols and shot everyone he could find in two rooms of the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“By early this morning, they were able to positively identify all of the victims and make formal identification to all of the families of the victims,” said Connecticut State Police spokesman Lieutenant Paul Vance.

The removal of bodies, which were initially left for investigators, “has been accomplished,” he said on CBS television. “That was done overnight.”

The gunman shot dead 18 children inside the school and two more died of their wounds shortly afterwards. Six adults, including the school principal, perished before the gunman died – apparently in a suicide.

Authorities offered little clue as to the motive for the shootings in Newtown, a wooded and picturesque small town northeast of New York City.

Hours after the shooting, hundreds of people gathered for a vigil, the crowd filling the church to capacity and spilling outside its doors.

“This is a kind of community, when things like that happen, they really pull together,” the priest, Robert Weiss, said during Mass.

A letter from Pope Benedict XVI was also read during the service.

Pope Benedict XVI sent his condolences to the community, in a letter read aloud at a vigil in Newtown on Friday evening.

The Pope “has asked me to convey his heartfelt grief and the assurance of his closeness in prayer to the victims and their families, and to all affected by the shocking event,” Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone said in the letter.

“In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy he asks God our Father to console all those who mourn and to sustain the entire community,” the letter said.

David Connors, whose triplets were at the school during the shooting but were unharmed, said he was still horrified.

“It’s hard. I’ve never imagined a thing like that could happen here.”

“Our faith is tested,” state Governor Dan Malloy told the congregants. “Not just necessarily our faith in God, but our faith in community, and who we are, and what we collectively are.”

Earlier the Governor had said “evil visited this community today”.

President Barack Obama, wiping away tears and struggling to maintain his composure, said he was aghast over the tragedy.

State police spokesman Vance said just one injured person survived, indicating that the gunman was unusually accurate or methodical in his fire.

The majority of killings, which began at around 9.30am local time, “took place in one section of the school, in two rooms,” Vance added. The children were aged between five and 10, officials said.

The killer was identified as Adam Lanza, 20. Initially, police told media they thought the murderer was his brother, 24-year-old Ryan Lanza, whose identity card had been found on the shooter’s dead body.

The surviving brother was in custody and being questioned, according to US television reports.

Many news outlets said another victim found in a home in Newtown – the 28th body in the day’s bloodshed – was the shooter’s mother, who was a teacher at Sandy Hook and whom he had killed before driving to the school.

Obama went on national television to express his “overwhelming grief.” He ordered flags to be lowered to half mast.

And there were similar statements of grief and shock around the world.

The head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, spoke of his “deep shock and horror,” Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II sent a message to Obama in which she said she was “deeply shocked and saddened,” and French President François Hollande expressed his condolences to Obama, saying the news “horrified me”.

Of all US campus shootings, the toll was second only to the 32 murders in the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech university.

The latest number far exceeded the 15 killed in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, which triggered a fierce but inconclusive debate about the US’s relaxed gun control laws.

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