Funerals Begin for Connecticut Children; Obama Declares, ‘We must change’

Posted on: 8:18 am, December 17, 2012, by

Newtown residents continue to mourn for the shooting victims

By Susan Candiotti and Holly Yan

NEWTOWN, Connecticut (CNN) — At a time when Newtown should be reveling in holiday cheer, the grief-stricken community will instead start the process of lowering 20 little coffins into the ground.

Six-year-olds Jack Pinto and Noah Pozner will be laid to rest on Monday.

The heartbreaking ritual will continue until families of 18 other children and six educators slain at Sandy Hook Elementary school last week say their final goodbyes.

But even after the memorial and tributes, it is unlikely the community will ever be the same.

“It’s incomprehensible, the pain here,” said resident Darla Henggeler. “You can’t imagine. We’re still in shock.

“I can’t let my heart go there because it’s so overwhelming. I think once it settles in, I think my heart will break.”

Obama: “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

In a packed auditorium at Newtown High School, President Barack Obama recited the names of those slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School and offered his condolences to the community.

“All across this land of ours, we have wept with you,” Obama said Sunday night.

He later said the country has failed to do everything it can to protect youths from such immense tragedy.

“Can we honestly say we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm?” Obama said, adding that “if we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.”

“If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no.”

He noted this is the fourth time in the past two years that a mass shooting has united the country in despair.

“These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

The president didn’t mention specific steps, but promised to “engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”

His call to action capped an emotional prayer service at Newtown High, in which local leaders of several religions — a Jewish rabbi singing a prayer, a Muslim man choking back tears, and several Christian leaders offering perspective — attempted to comfort a shattered community. Nine hundred watched in the school’s auditorium, including several children toting teddy bears.

Shortly before Obama’s remarks, the grassroots group Newton United launched “to create meaningful dialogue, both locally and beyond, around the issues that led to this this senseless act of violence.”

The group plans to send a delegation to Washington on Tuesday to meet with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence as well as families from July’s movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado.

More clues about what happened, but not why

It’s possible no one will ever know what led Adam Lanza to kill his mother, Nancy, in their home before taking her guns and raining hell on Sandy Hook Elementary School and eventually killing himself.

Investigators now know the gunman used “an assault weapon” to “literally (shoot) an entrance into the building,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said Sunday.

The nightmare worsened as he moved through Sandy Hook’s halls.

Using a Bushmaster AR-15 “assault-type rifle,” the 20-year-old fired multiple magazines — each of which contained 30 bullets — to gun down the adults and children in two classrooms, Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance said.

He then took out a handgun and shot himself in a classroom as officers approached, officials said.

All the victims were shot between three and 11 times.

“This probably is the worst I have seen or the worst that I know of any of my colleagues having seen,” said H. Wayne Carver II, Connecticut’s chief medical examiner, who conducted autopsies on seven victims.

The perpetrator had no criminal record.

His father, Peter Lanza, released a statement Saturday saying his family is “grieving along with all those who have been affected by this enormous tragedy.”

He offered his condolences to everyone affected.

“We are in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can,” the father said.

Relatives carry on the victims’ voices

As more details about the 20 children and six educators emerge, so do stories of heroism and joyous memories of lives cut far too short.

When the gunfire rang out, 27-year-old Victoria Soto scrambled to move her students away from her first-grade classroom door and shielded them in the corner of the room.

It’s not surprising that Soto would risk her life to save others, her mother said.

“She was truly selfless,” Donna Soto said Sunday. “She would not hesitate to think to save anyone else before herself and especially children. She loved them more than life.”

CNN’s Susan Candiotti reported from Newtown, Connecticut, and Holly Yan reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Wayne Drash, Greg Botelho, David Ariosto, Candy Crowley, Moni Basu and Chuck Johnston contributed to this report.

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