US school massacre site cleared of bodies

Agence France-Presse
Authorities have been able to 'positively identify all of the victims' and formally notify their families

SCENE OF THE CRIME. AFP photo/CBS TV

CONNECTICUT, USA – The bodies of 20 children and 6 adults slaughtered by a gunman in a quiet Connecticut town were removed from the blood-soaked school Saturday as police searched for a motive in the massacre.

The formal identification of the victims in one of America’s worst mass shootings marked a new chapter for horrified residents of Newtown, Connecticut, where Friday morning a 20-year-old man walked in with at least two powerful pistols and shot everyone he could find in two rooms of the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

By early Saturday morning, authorities were able to “positively identify all of the victims” and formally notify their families, said Connecticut State Police spokesman Lieutenant Paul Vance.

The removal of bodies, which were initially left for investigators, “has been accomplished,” he said on CBS television. “That was done overnight.”

The gunman, identified by US media as Adam Lanza, shot dead 18 children inside the school. Two more students died of their wounds shortly afterwards. Six adults, including the school principal, perished before the gunman himself died — apparently in a suicide. This brought to 27 the number of people killed in the school premises.

Quoting authorities, a New York Times report said Lanza began his killing spree at his home near the school, where he also shot his mother Nancy in the face. This brought the death count in the Newtown incident to 28.

Lanza then drove his mother’s car to the school and armed with semiautomatic pistols and a semiautomatic rifle, he forced his way into the school building. He then “chose his victims with brutal efficiency,” the Times reported, citing law enforcement officials.

MOURNERS. Residents of Newtown gather at St Rose of Lima Church to remember those who died. AFP photo

Motive for killings

Authorities have offered few clues as to the motive for the shootings in Newtown, a wooded and picturesque small town northeast of New York City.

Vance said investigators had to “peel back the onion, layer by layer and examine every crack and crevice” of the school.

“The detectives will analyze everything and put a complete picture together of the evidence that they did obtain. We’re hopeful, we’re hopeful that tell paint a complete picture as to how and why this entire incident, unfortunate incident occurred,” he told a news conference.

New details emerged of the horror that unfolded early Friday, shortly after classes started at the well regarded public school, where a new security system had just been installed.

Vance said the shooter forced his way in. Police then entered from several points, breaking “many windows” as they frantically tried to get survivors out and to locate the gunman.

Mary Ann Jacob, who works in the school library, told reporters Saturday that she had sheltered 18 children during the mayhem.

“We were locked in our room,” she said. “It was hard to keep them quiet. We told them it was joke, I think they didn’t really know what was going on.”

Late Friday, as darkness fell over the town, locals gathered for a church vigil, spilling out onto the street in large numbers.

“This is a kind of community, when things like that happen, they really pull together,” the priest, Robert Weiss, said during the Roman Catholic Mass.

Pope’s message

A letter from Pope Benedict XVI was also read during the service.

The pope “has asked me to convey his heartfelt grief and the assurance of his closeness in prayer to the victims and their families, and to all affected by the shocking event,” Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone said in the letter.

“Our faith is tested,” state Governor Dan Malloy told the congregants. “Not just necessarily our faith in God, but our faith in community, and who we are, and what we collectively are.”

President Barack Obama, wiping away tears and struggling to maintain his composure, said Friday he was aghast over the tragedy.

COME TOGETHER. As Americans mourn the death of at least 27 in a Connecticut school shooting, US President Barack Obama calls for solidarity to prevent tragedies like the massacre. AFP photo

There were similar statements of grief and shock around the world.

The head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, spoke of his “deep shock and horror,” Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II sent a message to Obama in which she said she was “deeply shocked and saddened,” and French President Francois Hollande expressed his condolences to Obama, saying the news “horrified me.”

Of all US campus shootings, the toll was second only to the 32 murders in the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech university.

The latest number far exceeded the 15 killed in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, which triggered a fierce but inconclusive debate about the United States’ relaxed gun control laws.

However, the White House on Friday scotched any suggestion that the politically explosive subject would be quickly reopened. – Rappler.com/With reports from AFP and the New York Times