Worshippers filled Sunday services to mourn the victims of a gunman's elementary school rampage that killed 20 children and six adults with President Barack Obama due to appear later at an interfaith vigil to help this shattered Connecticut town recover.
Twenty-year-old gunman Adam Lanza shot his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Friday morning, firing away at students at staff with the civilian version of a powerful military rifle. Victims were hit multiple times and at least one was shot 11 times, authorities said.
All the dead children were either 6 or 7 years old, feeding more emotion into a revived debate about whether stricter gun laws could prevent future mass shootings in the United States.
"If this doesn't shake the consciousness of the country about doing better to protect our children, I don't know what will," said Pedro Segarra, mayor of Hartford, the state capital.
A light mix of snow and freezing rain greeted worshippers on a cold and gray morning, church parking lots filled with cars. On Saturday, Jews gathered at Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown to express their disbelief at the massacre and show support for the survivors.
Obama was scheduled to attend an interfaith vigil with the families of the victims starting at 7 p.m.
At the Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church, early Mass was packed. The priest's announcements at the end included news that the Christmas pageant rehearsal would go on as planned, but without 6-year-old Olivia Engel, killed on Friday before she could play the role of an angel.
Makeshift memorials that began appearing in the hours after the shooting continued to grow on Sunday and new ones kept emerging in this affluent town of 27,000 people surrounded by wooded hills about 80 miles from New York City.
The largest memorial, festooned with flowers and teddy bears, sat at the end of Dickenson Drive where Sandy Hook Elementary stands, and residents and visitors streamed past a police roadblock to add to it.
At the memorial, a woman knelt down and sobbed violently.
As the children walked down the street in the rain, carrying their toys and signs, a man sat on the back on his parked car playing a mournful tune on a violin to accompany them.
Further up the street, an American "Flag of Honor" hung with the names of the dead. Poinsettias, roses and lilies lay beneath it, alongside candles and stuffed animals.
"This is a time to come together," said Carina Bandhaver, 43, who lives in nearby Southbury.
The children who survived will not have to return to the scene of the massacre when school reopens later this week and instead will attend classes at an unused school in a neighboring Connecticut town about 7 miles, school officials said. Classes elsewhere in the town would resume Tuesday, except at Sandy Hook.
Connecticut's Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy on Sunday became the latest public figure to call for new gun control measures. "These are assault weapons. You don't hunt deer with these things," Malloy said on the CNN's "State of the Union."
Gun rights advocates have countered that Connecticut already has among the strictest gun laws in the nation.
Obama's appearance will be watched closely for clues as to what he meant when he called for "meaningful action" to prevent such tragedies.
The president arrives after authorities released the names of the dead on Saturday and more details emerged about the victims and the rampage itself.
After killing his mother, Nancy Lanza, at home, Adam Lanza shot his way into the school and started firing at the children, most if not all with a powerful rifle - a military-style Bushmaster .223 M4 carbine - at close range. He also killed six adult women at the school and himself, putting the death toll at 28.
Malloy, referring to the shooter, said: "We know that he was a troubled individual, and that he went to school with a number of weapons which he used on his victims and ultimately used on himself . . . I'm sure we'll come to know more about him and his problems and his family."
Lanza had struggled at times to fit into the community and his mother Nancy pulled him out of school for several years, to home-school him, said Louise Tambascio, the owner of My Place Restaurant, where his mother was a long-time patron.
His father, Peter Lanza, issued a statement saying the family was in a "state of disbelief."
"We too are asking why," the statement said.
Nancy Lanza legally owned a Sig Sauer and a Glock, both handguns commonly used by police in addition to the long gun, according to law enforcement officials.
U.S. lawmakers have not approved a major new gun law since 1994, and they let a ban on certain semiautomatic rifles known as assault weapons expire in 2004. Malloy lamented that the assault ban was allowed to lapse. He also said a lot of guns used in crimes in his state were actually purchased in other states and brought to Connecticut.
Though Americans have seen many mass shootings over the years, the victims have rarely been so young. An appalled and grieving nation learned more about the dead.
Emilie Parker, another of the child victims, was studying Portuguese with her father, Robbie Parker, who opened up about his daughter in an emotional news conference in which he turned both glowing and teary.
"This world is a better place because she has been in it," Parker said.
Vicki Leigh Soto, 27, saved her first-grade students' lives by putting herself between the kids and the gunman. Britain's Independent on Sunday newspaper splashed her photo on its front page with the caption "The Heroine of Sandy Hook."
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