The gunman in the Connecticut shooting rampage was carrying an arsenal of hundreds of rounds of especially deadly ammunition — enough to kill just about every student in the school if given enough time, authorities said Sunday, raising the chilling possibility that the bloodbath could have been even worse.
Hours later, President Barack Obama told mourners at a vigil that the nation is failing to keep its children safe. He pledged to seek change in memory of the 26 teachers and schoolchildren who were killed in the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
“What choice do we have?” Obama said. “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”
The gunman, Adam Lanza, shot himself in the head just as he heard police drawing near to the classroom where he was slaughtering helpless children, but he had more ammunition at the ready in the form of multiple, high-capacity clips each capable of holding 30 bullets.
The disclosure on Sunday sent shudders throughout this picturesque New England community as grieving families sought to comfort each other during church services devoted to impossible questions like that of a 6-year-old girl who asked her mother: “The little children, are they with the angels?”
With so much grieving left to do, many of Newtown’s 27,000 people wondered whether life could ever return to normal. And as the workweek was set to begin, parents weighed whether to send their own children back to school.
Gov. Dannel Malloy said the shooter decided to kill himself when he heard police closing in about 10 minutes into the attack.
“We surmise that it was during the second classroom episode that he heard responders coming and apparently at that decided to take his own life,” Malloy said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Police said they found hundreds of unused bullets at the school, which enrolled about 450 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.
“There was a lot of ammo, a lot of clips,” said state police Lt. Paul Vance. “Certainly a lot of lives were potentially saved.”
The chief medical examiner has said the ammunition was a type designed to expend its energy in the victim’s tissues and stay inside the body to inflict the maximum amount of damage.
The sorrowful interfaith service was stark and spare, with a stage that held only a small table covered with a black cloth, candles and the presidential podium.
The newly re-elected president said in the coming weeks, he would use “whatever power this office holds” to engage with law enforcement, mental health professionals, parents and educators in an effort to prevent more tragedies like Newtown.
He promised to lead a national effort but left unclear what it would be and how much it would address the explosive issue of gun control.
Obama closed his remarks by slowly reading the first names of each of the 26 victims.
“God has called them all home,” he said. “For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.”
Obama conceded that none of his words would ease the sorrow. But he declared to the community of Newtown: “You are not alone.”
Privately, Obama told the governor that Friday was the most difficult day of his presidency.
Newtown officials couldn’t say whether Sandy Hook Elementary School would ever reopen. The school district was considering sending surviving students to a former school building in nearby Monroe. But for many parents, it was much too soon to contemplate resuming school-day routines.
“We’re just now getting ready to talk to our son about who was killed,” said Robert Licata, the father of a boy who was at the school during the shooting but escaped harm. “He’s not even there yet.”
Jim Agostine, superintendent of schools in nearby Monroe, said plans were being made for students from Sandy Hook to attend classes in his town this week.
The road ahead for Newtown was clouded with grief.