The nation pauses to grieve
By Debbi Wilgoren,
The principal’s name was read first in the Connecticut state Capitol building on Friday morning, one week after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that took the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults.
The names of the teachers, the school psychologist and the behavioral therapist followed.
Then the children. Between each name, softly, a bell was rung.
Charlotte Bacon, six years old.
Daniel Barden, age 7.
Olivia Engel, age 6.
Josephine Gay, age 7.
State consumer counsel Elin Swanson Katz had to stop several times, clearing her throat slightly and swallowing her emotions, before she could continue reading the list.
Noah Pozner, age 6.
Caroline Previdi, age 6.
Also age 6.
In Newtown, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other public officials stood on the steps of the Edmond Town Hall as a different bell rang 26 times to mourn Chase, Jack, Emilie, Madeline and the others gunned down when Adam Lanza stormed their school and opened fire with a high-powered Bushmaster rifle.
The wind whipped and rain fell during the ensuing moment of silence, which was also observed at churches and schools and public buildings nationwide. Under umbrellas and huddled in raincoats, people throughout Newtown stood alongside impromptu memorials and roadside tributes and listened.
Lanza, 20, is believed to have shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, four times in the head before going to Sandy Hook. He ended the rampage by taking his own life.
The killings have launched an emotional national debate over gun laws and a promise by President Obama to seek a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. Obama has appointed Vice President Biden to head a White House commission that will formulate gun control proposals as soon as next month.
The executive director of the powerful National Rifle Association, at a news conference Friday morning just 90 minutes after the moment of silence, urged the country to focus not on curbing gun ownership, but on ways of making schools safer, possibly including posting armed police officers in every school to prevent or stop future attacks.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, appearing at a Northeast Washington elementary school, said limiting the availability of firearms was a key concern.
“Last week the dreams of 26 individuals were cut short,” said Duncan, who visited Newtown on Thursday to attend the wake for Hochsprung. “I can’t help but wonder how things might have been different if [Lanza] didn’t have access to guns.”
Duncan, who will serve on the commission Biden is heading, said he would meet with people, including hunters and sportsmen, to ask their advice. He said he did not want to limit the conversation to reviving the assault rifle ban, which expired in 2004.
“Let’s go further, and ask what we as a community can do to stop gun violence,” Duncan said, speaking in an auditorium at Neval Thomas Elementary School that was filled with holiday decorations and children singing Christmas carols. “We have common values that go beyond the right to bear arms. We value our freedom, we value our safety. . . . We value the right to live our daily lives and pursue our dreams without fear.”
Duncan was joined at the school by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and other local leaders.
At the Washington National Cathedral, leaders of different faith communities also gathered to mark the one-week anniversary of the massacre.
Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, reiterated the pledges of representatives of different faith traditions to work to change gun laws as well as social and cultural norms when it comes to violence.
Speaking of those killed in Newtown, Budde said, “We pledge to honor their memory by doing what we all know is right.”
Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, recalled the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin four months ago where seven people — including the gunman — were killed.
“Those bullets that hit Sandy Hook have hit the Sikh community again,” Singh said, adding that people who are moved to action now should “continue to raise their voices to stop this violence.”
In an open letter to Newtown published by the Hartford Courant on Thursday night, first lady Michelle Obama said her heart “aches for you and your families.”
“Like so many Americans, I wish there were something — anything — I could do or say to ease your anguish,” Obama wrote. “But I know that I cannot begin to imagine the depths of your grief.”
Time Craig, Jeannine Hunter and Susan Svrluga contributed to this report.