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After unspeakable tragedy, a search for answers

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Amid the confusion and sorrow, stories of heroism emerged. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

While church leaders and President Barack Obama prepared to comfort a grieving town Dec. 16, federal agents planned to fan out to dozens of gun stores and shooting ranges across Connecticut, chasing leads they hoped would cast light on the life of school shooter Adam Lanza.

Among the questions: Why did his mother, a well-to-do suburban divorcee, keep a cache of high-power weapons in the house? What experience did Lanza have with those guns? And, above all, what set him on a path to shoot and kill 20 children, along with the adults who tried to stop him?

Lanza shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, to death at the home they shared on Dec. 14, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in her car with at least three of her guns, forced his way in by breaking a window, and opened fire, authorities said. Within minutes, he killed the children, six adults, and himself.

All the victims at the school were shot with a rifle, at least some of them up close, and all were apparently shot more than once, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver said. All six adults killed at the school were women. Of the 20 children, eight were boys and 12 were girls.

See also:

Leaders eye school safety plans after Connecticut attack

How to talk to children about the Sandy Hook shooting

Could Sandy Hook shooting be a gun-control tipping point?

School safety resources from the eSN archives

Asked whether the children suffered, Carver said, “If so, not for very long.” Asked how many bullets were fired, Carver said, “I’m lucky if I can tell you how many I found.”

Parents identified the children through photos to spare them some shock, Carver said.

The terrible details about the last moments of young innocents emerged as authorities released their names and ages—the youngest 6 and 7, the oldest 56. They included Ana Marquez-Greene, a little girl who had just moved to Newtown from Canada; Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old teacher who apparently died while trying to hide her pupils; and principal Dawn Hochsprung, who authorities said lunged at the gunman in an attempt to overtake him.

The school shooting has plunged Newtown into mourning and added the picturesque New England community of 27,000 people to the grim map of towns where mass shootings in recent years have periodically reignited the national debate over gun control but led to little change.

Residents and faith leaders were sure to reflect Sunday on the mass shooting and what meaning, if any, to find in it. Obama planned to attend an interfaith vigil—the fourth time he will have traveled to a city after a mass shooting.

On Dec. 15, overflow crowds packed St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. The Rev. Richard Scinto, a deacon, gave a homily.

“In the past 48 hours I’ve said the phrase ‘I don’t know’ about 1,000 times,” he said. “That not knowing has got to be the worst part of this whole thing.”

At St. John’s Episcopal Church, 54-year-old Donna Denner, an art teacher at an elementary school in nearby Danbury whose classroom was locked down after the shooting, said she feels the same way she did after 9/11 but isn’t sure the rest of the country does.

“I don’t know if the rest of the country is struggling to understand it the same way we are here,” she said. “Life goes on, but you’re not the same. Is the rest of the country—are they going about their regular activities? Is it just another news story to them?”

The rifle used was a Bushmaster .223-caliber, according to an official with knowledge of the investigation who was not authorized to speak about it and talked on condition of anonymity. The gun is commonly seen at competitions and was the type used in the 2002 sniper killings in the Washington, D.C., area. Also found in the school were two handguns, a Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm.

A law enforcement official on Dec. 15 said authorities were investigating fresh leads that could reveal more about the lead-up to the shooting. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

See also:

Leaders eye school safety plans after Connecticut attack

How to talk to children about the Sandy Hook shooting

Could Sandy Hook shooting be a gun-control tipping point?

School safety resources from the eSN archives

Ginger Colbrun, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, said earlier there was no evidence Lanza was involved in gun clubs or had trained for the shooting. When reached later in the day and asked whether that was still true, she said, “We’re following any and all leads related to this individual and firearms.”

Dean Price, director of the Wooster Mountain State Range—a shooting range in Danbury—said two ATF agents visited the range Friday night and stayed into the early morning looking through thousands of names on sign-in logs.

He said that he had never seen Adam or Nancy Lanza there and that agents told him they did not find their names on the sign-in sheets.

Law enforcement officials have said they have found no note or manifesto from Lanza of the sort they have come to expect after murderous rampages such as the Virginia Tech tragedy in 2007 that left 33 people dead.

Education officials said they had found no link between Lanza’s mother and the school, contrary to news reports that said she was a teacher there. Investigators said they believe Adam Lanza attended Sandy Hook many years ago, but they had no explanation for why he went there Friday.

Authorities said Adam Lanza had no criminal history, and it was not clear whether he had a job. Lanza was believed to have suffered from a personality disorder, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lanza had been diagnosed with Asperger’s, a mild form of autism often characterized by social awkwardness.

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