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US massacre survivors back in school for the first time

Students at the elementary school where a gunman massacred 26 children and teachers last month are returning to class for the first time today in a new building adapted to look exactly like their old one.

Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, has been closed since the December 14 tragedy in which a 20-year-old local man shot 20 small children and six staff members before committing suicide.

Yesterday, families were invited to inspect the new school in the nearby town of Monroe, where a disused facility has been prepared to resemble the old one, right down to the pictures on the walls and crayons on desks, ABC television reported.

In a message to parents on the school website, acting principal Donna Page, who replaces the slain school head Dawn Hochsprung, insisted “the facility is safe, secure and fully operational.”

Page said parents would be allowed to stay in the school when it opens for classes today, to provide reassurance to their children, many of whom witnessed to the bloodbath.

“We understand many parents may need to be near their children on their first day(s) of school and you will be welcome. That being said, we encourage students to take the bus to school in order to help them return to familiar routines as soon as possible,” she wrote.

The shootings, in which Adam Lanza wielded a semi-automatic assault-style rifle, provoked a major national debate on gun control and a promise from President Barack Obama to back a bill outlawing military-type weapons.

The killer, Adam Lanza, was laid to rest over the weekend after his father, a tax executive, retrieved his body from the authorities last week, a family spokesman said.

Lanza’s mother, whom he shot at their home just ahead of the school massacre, was buried in New Hampshire last month.

Armed cops for schools

Amid a national debate on how to stop gun massacres in public places, one town in New Jersey began posting armed police at every school on the restart of the academic year yesterday.

The new policy was the town of Marlboro’s response to anguished questions over security in the wake of December’s massacre in which a gunman shot 20 young children and six staff dead at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

“The safety and security of our students, staff, and buildings are of utmost importance,” the Marlboro education authority said on its website.

“To that end, and in response to the Newton, CT tragedy, starting Wednesday, January 2, every Marlboro school will have an armed, uniformed Marlboro Township police officer.”

The measure will be in place for 90 days “while discussions about future security improvements are conducted,” the statement added.

Deploying police full time at schools has become common in the US over the last two decades, according to a study sponsored by the Department of Justice.

“Nearly half of all public schools have assigned police officers,” the 2010 study said, and “assigning officers to schools is becoming increasingly popular.”

But the Newtown shootings on December 14 added urgency to an already heated debate over how to protect schools and other public places. Gun control advocates say US laws too easily allow criminals and deranged individuals access to powerful weapons.

The main gun rights lobby, the National Rifle Association, says that the best way forward is to arm teachers – a strategy that has found favour in some western states, including in Utah.

Bullet-proof kid clothes

Miguel Caballero has been making bullet-proof clothes for politicians and other bigwigs for 20 years, but not for kids. The latest US school massacre has changed that.

This year he plans a line for children – T-shirts, vests, and combination backpack-vests – and geared toward the US market.

Caballero has made good money in his 22-year-old business with a factory on the outskirts of Bogota. He sells around 50,000 garments a year that go for about $2,000 a piece, but the US market had been tough to crack. Then, after a lone and deranged gunman killed children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month in Newtown, Connecticut, he started getting orders from very worried parents.

So, in just a week, he designed garments and subjected them to ballistic tests. Now his factory is fitted to churn out a first lot of 1,800 bullet-proof garments for children.

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