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Vigil held for US school shooting victims

19:48 Sat Dec 15 2012
AAP
Employees and friends affected by the Connecticut shooting at Hartford Distributors Tuesday gather outside the warehouse in Connecticut (AAP)
Employees and friends affected by the Connecticut shooting at Hartford Distributors Tuesday gather outside the warehouse in Connecticut (AAP)

Hundreds of people have gathered at a night-time vigil to remember the 27 people killed on Friday in one of the United States' worst shooting massacres.

The St Rose of Lima church in Newtown, Connecticut, was filled to capacity, with hundreds more outside, saying prayers and holding candles.

Twenty-year-old suspected gunman Adam Lanza on Friday shot dead 18 children aged between five and 10 and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where his mother was a teacher, before killing himself.

Two other children shot at the scene later died in hospital.

Lanza is understood to have killed his mother Nancy at their home before he drove her car to the school and began the shootings shortly after the school day had started, a police source said.

His girlfriend and another friend are still missing in New Jersey, the source added.

Connecticut police lieutenant Paul Vance said he and his colleagues had "never seen anything like it", adding that it was "heart wrenching for us as well as for the families".

Medical examiners were spending the night at the scene formally identifying the pupils and adults who were killed, state police said.

In New Jersey, Lanza's older brother Ryan, 24, was being questioned by police, who said he had no involvement in the massacre.

He told investigators his brother, who lived with their mother in Connecticut, was believed to suffer from a personality disorder and be "somewhat autistic".

A grandmother of the suspect, who is also the mother of the slain teacher, was too distraught to speak when reached by phone at home in Florida.

"I just don't know, and I can't make a comment right now," Dorothy Hanson, 78, said in a shaky voice as she started to cry.

She said she hadn't heard anything official about her daughter and grandsons.

Police say the shootings took place in one section of the school, in two rooms.

"The shooter is deceased in the school. There's a great deal of work going on relative to that," Vance said.

"That's the reason why we have not identified him as of yet.

"It is not a simplistic scene - we need to establish identity. We need to document the entire scene and we need to answer every single question surrounding exactly how and why this incident occurred."

Witnesses at the scene have been given crisis counselling because of the "very tragic, horrific scene" they encountered, Vance said.

"It is not something that we want to see. It's not something that we see every day," he said.

Police have been in contact with all the children's parents.

Two pistols - a Glock and a Sig Sauer - were found inside the school, while a .223-calibre rifle was recovered from the back of a car at the site.

Photos from the scene showed students, some of them crying, being escorted by adults through a car park in a line, hands on each other's shoulders.

Children told their parents they heard bangs and, at one point, a scream over the intercom.

Connecticut governor Dan Malloy gave an official statement to the press on behalf of the state, saying that "evil visited this community today".

Many of the victims were, he said, "beautiful, beautiful children, who had simply come to school to learn".

"Their day ended a very different way than any of us could possibly have imagined. Quite frankly, as we stand here today, still can't imagine what transpired there."

US President Barack Obama wiped away tears as he went on national television to express his "overwhelming grief" and allude to a need for more restrictive gun controls.

"The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of five and ten years old," Obama said.

"They had their entire lives ahead of them, birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own."

Obama paused for several seconds, and breathed heavily, several times wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, as he gave his first reaction to the killings.

"As a country we have been through this too many times," said Obama, who has ordered flags to be lowed to half-mast.

"These neighbourhoods are our neighbourhoods, these children are our children.

"We are going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics."

But his spokesman Jay Carney scotched any suggestion that the politically explosive subject would be quickly reopened.

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