Schools in Newtown area reopen

Tue, Dec 18, 2012, 00:00

Students returned to school in the shattered Connecticut town of Newtown today, accompanied by police and counsellors to help them cope after a gunman's rampage killed 26 people in an elementary school and altered attitudes about gun control in Washington.

The White House spelled out some gun control measures today that President Barack Obama would support in the aftermath of last Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, including moves by a Democratic senator to reinstate an assault weapons ban.

At a memorial service on Sunday, Mr Obama promised to address gun violence after the shooting rampage.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said today Mr Obama would support US senator Dianne Feinstein's effort to craft legislation to reinstate an assault weapons ban and would also back any law to close a loophole related to gun-show sales, he said.

"People have talked about high-capacity gun ammunition clips, for example, and that is something certainly that he would be interested in looking at," Mr Carney added.

Mr Obama spoke earlier in the day with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a gun rights advocate who said he would now be open to more regulation of military-style rifles such as the one used in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday.

"He is heartened, I should mention, by what we have all heard from some members of Congress who have been longtime opponents of gun control measures, common sense gun control measures like the assault weapons ban and the like," Mr Carney said.

Yesterday, Mr Obama met with senior administration officials including vice president Joe Biden, education secretary Arne Duncan, attorney general Eric Holder, and health and human services secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the issue.

"It's the beginning of a process where ... we will look for ways to address this problem in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown," Mr Carney said.

"It's clear that as a nation we haven't done enough to address the scourge of gun violence," he said, reiterating that Mr Obama wanted to move on the issue in the coming weeks.

Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20-year-old Adam Lanza gunned down a score of six and seven-year-olds and six adults on Friday, will remain closed.

It is an active crime scene, with police coming and going past a line of 26 Christmas trees put up by visitors and decorated with ornaments, stuffed animals and balloons in the school colours of green and white as a memorial.

The rest of Newtown's schools were set to reopen.

"We are ready to open our doors and give them everything they need to feel safe," said Julie Shull, a social studies teacher at Reed Intermediate School.

"I could not be prouder to be a part of this amazing group of individuals that devote their lives to children."

Sandy Hook pupils will later resume class at an unused school in another town.

The massacre of young children shocked Americans who had grown accustomed to mass shootings, prompting some US lawmakers to call for tighter gun restrictions and pressuring one private equity firm to sell its investment in a gunmaker.

President Barack Obama, who called for action at a Sunday night prayer vigil in Newtown, held talks with vice president Joe Biden and three Cabinet members on Monday in what a White House official said was an effort to "begin looking at ways the country can respond to the tragedy in Newtown.

Several Democratic lawmakers have called for a new push for U.S. gun restrictions, including a ban on assault weapons such as the Bushmaster AR-15 used by Lanza, who carried hundreds of rounds of ammunition in extra clips and shot all of his victims repeatedly, one of them 11 times. Lanza also shot dead his mother before driving to the school, and then killed himself to end the massacre with a death toll of 28.

The nation's powerful gun industry lobby, the National Rifle Association, has remained silent on the Newtown shooting.

While politicians and investors grappled with the future of the US gun industry, police and educators in Newtown tried to ease their bucolic town back to normal. At least two more funerals were set for today after the first two children were buried on Monday.

Newtown police plan to have officers at the six schools scheduled to reopen on today, and police Lt George Sinko acknowledged it may be difficult to ease the worries of the roughly 4,700 returning students and their families.

"Obviously, there's going to be a lot of apprehension. We just had a horrific tragedy. We had babies sent to school that should be safe and they weren't," Lt Sinko said. "You can't help but think ... if this could happen again."

Older students were volunteering at a support centre for those stricken with grief.

"It all seemed so unreal, and then today it hit me. This is reality and something we're going to have to deal with," said Jamie Calandro (14), a freshman at Newtown High School. "Right now, with Christmas coming up, it's most important to make the homey feel of Newtown come back."

When Sandy Hook students return, it will be at the unused Chalk Hill School in the nearby Monroe, where a sign across the street form the school read, "Welcome Sandy Hook Elementary!"

Police have warned it could take months for them to finish their investigation.

The first two victims, Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, both 6, were buried yesterday, with the boys' bodies laid out in white coffins.

Jack was dressed in a New York Giants jersey with his favourite player's number, while mourners left a teddy bear outside Noah's service.

Funerals were expected today for victims including James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos. Each was 6 years old.

Reuters

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