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Newtown buries its first little victims

Funerals began yesterday in the little Connecticut town of Newtown after the school massacre that took the lives of 20 small children and six staff, triggering new momentum for a change to America’s gun culture.

The first burials, held under raw, wet skies, were for two six-year-old boys who were among those shot in Sandy Hook Elementary School. Today, the first of the girls, also aged six, is due to be laid to rest.

There were no Monday classes at all across Newtown, and the blood-soaked elementary school was to remain a closed crime scene indefinitely, authorities said. “Healing is still going on,” town police Lieutenant George Sinko said.

“The plan is to try to resume normalcy for school classes tomorrow, except for those members of the Sandy Hook school.”

In the nearby town of Ridgefield, reports of a suspicious person prompted the lockdown and deployment of police yesterday at all schools, the Ridgefield public schools system said in an alert on its website.

For Newtown, a picturesque and quiet suburban community where the 20-year-old killer lived with his well-off mother, the start of funerals was unlikely to settle the nightmare of what happened last Friday.

But the crime, in which the murderer carried a high-powered, military-style rifle and two handguns, may have spurred change in the political landscape regarding rules on weapons ownership.

Late on Sunday, President Barack Obama joined a prayer vigil in Newtown and used his remarks to pledge to work for an end to mass shootings, which have now become an almost regular event in the US – with with four massacres since Obama took office alone.

“These tragedies must end,” Obama said, not giving specifics, but appearing to commit himself to a push for reform in his second White House term, possibly by urging restoration of a federal ban on assault weapons like the one used in Newtown. That ban expired in 2004.

“Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?” Obama asked on a podium lined with candles lit in memory of the dead.

“I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no,” he said. “We will have to change.”

Earlier, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California promised to introduce a Bill to ban assault weapons on the very first day of the next Congress, January 3.

But with gun ownership protected by the US constitution and firearms deeply ingrained in American culture, attempts to restrict access have long been seen as a vote-losing proposition.

Bit by bit, the full picture of the horror and heroism in the school, where the deranged shooter, Adam Lanza, sprayed bullets into two rooms, was starting to emerge.

The husband of Dawn Hochsprung, the diminutive school principal killed as she tried to stop the killer, said she told others around her to hide. Then she “and at least one other teacher went out and actually tried to subdue the killer,” her husband George said.

“I don’t know where that comes from. Dawn was 5’2,” he said. “Dawn put herself in jeopardy and I have been angry about that, angry – until just now, when I met two women that she told to go under shelter while she actually confronted the gunman.”

But police remained tight-lipped about their investigation into the killer. Lanza is believed to have first shot his mother in their house before going to the school.

No information about a possible motive, or whether Lanza had any diagnosed mental condition, has emerged, although police said they are probing every bullet fired, every gun used, and searching the mother’s house for any clues to Lanza’s background.

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