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US mourns school victims

The town Christmas tree became an impromptu place of remembrance

The people of Newtown who were being joined by President Barack Obama, yesterday poured into churches to pray for the 20 children and six adults slaughtered in one of the worst ever US shooting massacres.

Lanza penetrated the building by literally shooting an entrance into the building

The small Connecticut town led the nation in mourning 48 hours after Adam Lanza burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered two roomfuls of six and seven-year-old children, the school principal and five other female staff.

From early yesterday churches filled and the town Christmas tree became an impromptu place of remembrance, with people pausing every few minutes to pray and cross themselves under a light snowfall.

One middle-aged woman knelt down in front of the ranks of votive candles, teddy bears and handwritten notes, and bowed her head in tears.

“The community is gathering together and praying,” Rosty Slabicky, a Red Cross volunteer said at the Catholic Saint Rose of Lima Church, where worshippers flocked to an early Mass.

“They are destroyed,” Slabicky said. “Not just the families, but the first responders are dealing with the crisis in a very personal and emotional level.”

Later yesterday, Obama was visiting the leafy town to address an interfaith vigil. The White House said the President was meeting with families of victims and first responders who were sent to the carnage.

Meanwhile, the investigation entered an important new stage with the autopsy of Lanza, who is believed to have shot himself inside the school.

Coroners, who on Saturday formally identified all the school victims, were turning their attention to Lanza and also his mother, whom he murdered in her Newtown home immediately before heading to the school.

That autopsy will likely start lifting the lid on the mystery of Lanza, who at 20 was seen as a withdrawn and awkward youngster, but had shown no signs of violence, let alone any indications that he might perpetrate a massacre.

Initial reports suggested Lanza used two handguns in his spree, but officials revealed Saturday that his main weapon was .223 caliber Bushmaster, a civilian version of the US military’s M4 – essentially a killing machine. Like the pistols, the rifle was registered with his mother.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy revealed yesterday that Lanza blasted his way into the school, which had just installed a new security door where visitors could be viewed by video camera and buzzed in.

“He shot his way into the building. He penetrated the building by literally shooting an entrance into the building. That’s what an assault weapon can do for you,” Malloy said on CNN. Next, the killer “went to the first classroom, as you know, went to the second classroom. We surmise that it was during the second classroom episode that he heard responders coming and apparently at that point decided to take his own life,” Malloy said on ABC.

Malloy said there was still little clue to Lanza’s motivation, but that a picture of his mental state would eventually emerge. So far, police have not said whether they found a suicide note or any other documents.

“Clearly he was troubled. You have to be deranged to carry out this kind of crime,” he said. “This was a troubled individual... I’m sure we’ll come to know more about him, his problems, his family.”

In addition to the mystery over Lanza, police are probing why his mother kept an arsenal of powerful weapons at her home in a well-to-do neighbourhood, and how her son got his hands on them.

Latest developments

Later yesterday police evacuated a Roman Catholic church where mourners had gathered in the wake of Friday’s mass shooting at an elementary school that killed 20 children.

“The church has been evacuated,” said a Connecticut state police trooper in front of the Saint Rose of Lima church, which was surrounded by law enforcement vehicles and Swat team officers.

Armed police were seen by an AFP reporter conducting a search at a house next to the brown stone church, just hours before a visit to Newtown by President Barack Obama. Nothing suspicious was found at the church but it was shut down after the scare and evening Mass was cancelled.

“There was a phone call that concerned the police. It was credible enough that they thought it had to be investigated,” said Brian Wallace, a spokesman for the church, who gave no details about the apparent threat.

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