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Funerals Begin for Shooting Victims of Sandy Hook, New Details on Shooter Lanza

December 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Funerals have begun for victims of last week's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Ray Suarez reports on President Obama's visit to the community and vigil address over the weekend, new details revealed about shooter Adam Lanza and how this tragic event is shaping discussion in Washington.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: A holiday season that should have been alive with the joy of children is now instead a season of mourning their loss in Newtown, Conn. The first of the funerals took place today for the victims of the massacre at an elementary school.

Ray Suarez begins our coverage.

RAY SUAREZ: Flowers streamed into funeral homes around Newtown, as the shock and horror of Friday gave way to grim rituals of grief. Mourners in black waited under gray skies to attend services for Jack Pinto and Noah Pozner, two of the 20 first-graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.

And, everywhere, it is clear the townspeople are still reeling.

JOHVANY OSPINA, Newtown, Conn., resident: Really sad. I didn’t want to go back to work today. It hit me hard because I got two kids the same age that happened to these kids. And it hit — it really hit, hit really hard, like a parent, like a dad.

RAY SUAREZ: A somber weekend had concluded with last night’s vigil at NewtownHigh School, about a mile away from the scene of the killings.

(APPLAUSE)

RAY SUAREZ: Police and emergency personnel got a standing ovation as they entered the auditorium. President Obama met privately with the victims’ families before addressing the shaken crowd.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight.

And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone.

RAY SUAREZ: The weekend also brought new details in the investigation. Police confirmed the rampage began when 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother inside their home.

It turned out Nancy Lanza was a gun enthusiast. Her son took some of her weapons and drove to Sandy Hook Elementary, where he forced his way into the school and opened fire.

In all, he killed 26 people there, six adults and 20 first-graders. All of the children were 6 and 7 years old, and all were shot multiple times.

State police Lt. Paul Vance said today Lanza still had hundreds more rounds when he killed himself as officers were closing in.

LT. J. PAUL VANCE, Connecticut State Police: I can’t speculate what would have occurred. That would be wrong on my part.

I can tell you that the faculty and staff in that school did everything that they possibly could to protect those children. I can tell you that first-responders that got to that scene, the active shooter team entered that school and saved many human lives. And I can tell you it broke our hearts that we couldn’t save them all.

RAY SUAREZ: Lanza’s motive remains a mystery. He had no apparent connection to the school and his mother wasn’t a teacher there, as early reports indicated. The school itself is now a crime scene with no indication if or when it might reopen.

LT. J. PAUL VANCE: I can’t even tell you what that means. I don’t know how long that will be. I’m suspecting months. And at that time, it’s up to the town officials to determine exactly what is appropriate with that facility, with that building.

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, schools in two nearby towns, Ridgefield and Redding, Conn., were placed on lockdown this morning after reports of a suspicious person. And school systems elsewhere also asked for more police patrols.

As communities around the nation talk about the need for better security in schools, here in Washington, the debate is returning to the always thorny issue of gun control. Members of Congress are starting to be heard on gun law, heeding the president’s call to act to prevent another atrocity.

As he had on Friday, the president pressed for change last night, regardless, he said, of the politics.

BARACK OBAMA: In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds 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.

RAY SUAREZ: And today at the Capitol, there were early signs of a possible break in the long deadlock on gun control.

On MSNBC, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat and gun rights advocate, said Newtown has changed the conversation.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN, D-W.V.: I ask all my friends in the NRA — and I’m a proud NRA member and always have been — that we need to sit down and move this dialogue to a sensible, reasonable approach to fixing it. It’s part of it, not all of it. But everything has to be on the table, and I think it will be.

RAY SUAREZ: This afternoon, the Senate opened with a moment of silence for the Newtown victims. Then Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the chamber will examine the nation’s gun laws.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: We will engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture and allow this violence to continue to grow.

We have no greater responsibility than keeping our most vulnerable and most precious resource, our children, safe. And every idea should be on the table as we discuss how best to do just that.

RAY SUAREZ: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t endorse Reid’s initiative. But he didn’t reject it either. Instead, he kept his remarks focused on the tragedy.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: Any time there’s a shooting like this, we’re crushed with sorrow.

But there’s no escaping the fact that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary stands out for its awfulness. The murder of so many little children and the adults who tried to save them doesn’t just break our hearts. It shatters them.

RAY SUAREZ: And outside Washington, there were other calls to curb gun violence. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined survivors and victims’ relatives demanding action.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, I-New York: Last night, the president said he would use whatever powers his office holds to address this violence. And I think it is critical that he do so.

Words alone cannot heal our nation. Only action can do that. Gun violence is a national epidemic and a national tragedy that demands more than words.

RAY SUAREZ: The mayor urged Congress to reinstate a ban on assault-style weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle that Adam Lanza used Friday. Versions of that gun were outlawed in 1994, but the ban expired in 2004.

A new poll out today from ABC and The Washington Post found 54 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws in general. Still, 71 percent oppose banning the sale of handguns.

And, in addition to gun control, there are new appeals to identify and help treat potentially troubled individuals before there’s a tragedy.

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy spoke this afternoon in Hartford.

GOV. DAN MALLOY, D-Conn.: Are we doing enough from a mental health perspective to reach out to kids and families who are obviously in trouble? My sense is we are not. And we need to look at that within our own state and within our own nation.

RAY SUAREZ: The governor also called for a moment of silence and for churches to ring their bells for the shooting victims Friday morning.