Attack called 'the worst I have seen' by medical examiner
NEWTOWN, Conn. - Twelve girls and eight boys. One had celebrated her seventh birthday just four days before her death. They were Charlotte and Jack, Noah and Grace.
Dressed in "cute kid stuff," all 20 died when a heavily armed 20-year-old gunman forced his way into their school, Sandy Hook Elementary, and shot them and six women in an act of violence that has shattered their once-tranquil suburban town.
"They were first-graders," said Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, before releasing the names of all the victims of the school shootings on Saturday.
Asked to describe the attack, Carver, who oversaw the autopsies of all the victims and conducted many himself, called it "the worst I have seen."
The shooter, identified by law enforcement officials as Adam Lanza, killed his mother Nancy on Friday, then drove to the school where he gunned down another 26 people before taking his own life in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
Adam Lanza fired a rifle, shooting his victims multiple times. Parents identified their children through pictures, a process intended to minimize their shock, Carver said.
Police did not officially identify Lanza or his mother.
Members of the close-knit community went into public mourning Saturday as the depth of the tragedy became clear.
"I don't know how to get through something like this," said Robbie Parker, a 30-year-old physician's assistant whose 6-year-old daughter, Emilie, was among the dead.
"My wife and I don't understand how to process this and how to get our lives going," Parker told reporters. Emilie, the oldest of his three children, Parker said, "could just light up a room."
While Americans have seen many mass shootings in the past decades, the victims have rarely been so young. On Saturday, some Democratic lawmakers called for sweeping new gun-control measures, a move certain to run up against stiff opposition from the nation's powerful pro-gun lobby.
President Barack Obama, who a day earlier was moved to tears on national television by the tragedy, called for "meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this," but stopped short of specifically calling for tighter gun-control laws.
Christmas tree memorial
Townsfolk packed into the church memorial services held throughout the day. On Saturday night, the pews at St. Rose of Lima were packed with parishioners standing at the rear of the church.
At least one person was missing - 6-year-old Olivia Engel, who was to have had a role in the Nativity concert. "She was supposed to be an angel in the play," said the Rev. Robert Weiss. "Now she's an angel up in heaven."
Town fire officials set up 26 Christmas trees, decorated with stuffed animals, near the school as a memorial to the victims - many of whom were children who may have been hoping for such toys as their own holiday presents. Churches held memorial services.
"Those innocent little boys and girls were taken from their families far too soon," said Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy. "Let us all hope and pray those children are now in a place where that innocence will always be protected."
One of the victims, Josephine Gay, had celebrated her seventh birthday on Tuesday.
Rabbi Shaul Praver said he had spent time with Veronika Pozner, whose 6-year-old son, Noah, was among the victims.
"She said that she didn't know how she was going to go on, and we encouraged her to focus on her other four children that need her and not to try to plan out the rest of her life, just take a deep breath right now," Praver said.
Police earlier said they had assembled "some very good evidence" on the killer's motives.
"Our investigators at the crime scene ... did produce some very good evidence in this investigation that our investigators will be able to use in, hopefully, painting the complete picture as to how - and more importantly why - this occurred," Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance told reporters.
Yale-New Haven Hospital opened a crisis-intervention center in the wealthy suburb of 27,000 people about 80 miles from New York City.
The killer's mother legally owned a Sig Sauer and a Glock, both handguns commonly used by police, and a military-style Bushmaster .223 M4 carbine, according to law enforcement officials, who also said they believed Adam Lanza used at least some of those weapons.
Other law enforcement sources said it appeared Adam Lanza was quite disturbed by the 2009 divorce of his parents.
Ryan Lanza, who was questioned on Friday, told investigators that his younger brother had behavioral issues such as autism. Nancy Lanza did not work at the school, but may have been a volunteer there, sources said.
With reports from the Los Angeles Times.