Funerals for two young victims of the second-deadliest shooting in U.S. history were held Monday in Newtown, where family and friends were among the mourners following the killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the picturesque Connecticut town.
Funeral services for Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, both Grade 1 students, began at 1 p.m. ET, and were the first of many that will be held in the Fairfield County town of about 28,000. Eight boys and 12 girls — all six or seven years old — as well as six school staff died when a gunman burst into the building Friday and opened fire. It's the second-deadliest shooting in U.S. history, behind the Virginia Tech massacre in Blacksburg, Va., in 2007.
Mourners streamed out of two funeral homes after the services were held Monday afternoon.
A rabbi presided at Noah's service, and in keeping with Jewish tradition, the boy was laid to rest in a simple brown wooden casket adorned with a Star of David. Outside the building, well-wishers placed two teddy bears, a bouquet of white flowers and a single red rose at the base of a maple tree.
Noah was described as a whip-smart youngster who liked to figure out how things worked mechanically. His twin sister, Arielle, who was assigned to a different classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary, survived the mass shooting.
"If Noah had not been taken from us, he would have become a great man. He would been a wonderful husband and a loving father," Noah's uncle Alexis Haller told mourners, according to remarks he provided to The Associated Press.
At Jack Pinto's Christian service, hymns rang out from inside the funeral home, where the boy lay in an open casket in the Giants' star wide receiver Victor Cruz's No. 80 jersey. Jack was among the youngest members of a youth wrestling association in Newtown, and dozens of little boys turned up at the service in grey Newtown Wrestling T-shirts.
Ten-year-old Luke Wellman remembered a boy who loved football and was a big fan of Cruz, who played in Sunday's game with "Jack Pinto 'My Hero"' written on one of his cleats.
Luke said: "I'm here to support my teammate and friend."
A mourner, Gwendolyn Glover, said Jack was in an open casket and that the service was a message of comfort and protection, particularly for other children.
"The message was: You're secure now," she said. "The worst is over."
Ray DiStephan, outside the funeral, said that if people want to go hunting "a single-shot rifle does the job, and that does the job to protect your home, too. If you need more than that, I don't know what to say."
He added: "I don't want to see my kids go to schools that become maximum-security fortresses. That's not the world I want to live in, and that's not the world I want to raise them in."
Funerals for two six-year-olds, James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos, will be held Tuesday.
The adults who died in the shooting are principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach, as well as teachers Lauren Rousseau, Victoria Soto, Anne Marie Murphy and Rachel Davino.
Investigators searching for leads
Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance said two adults survived the shooting at the school and they are recovering.
Police said they will talk with the two survivors when it is medically appropriate.
"Certainly, they will shed a great deal of light on the circumstances of this tragic investigation that we're undertaking," Vance said.
He added that any interviews with children from the school will be done with professionals, parents and investigators "as appropriate."
"The investigators will determine how and where and why we will do this," Vance said. "Understand that we will handle that extremely delicately when the time arises."
Newtown officials couldn't say whether Sandy Hook Elementary School would ever reopen. CBC's David Common reported from Connecticut that many people there want it demolished. Monday's classes were cancelled, and the district was making plans to send surviving students to a former school building in a neighbouring town.
Newtown police Lt. George Sinko said he "would find it very difficult" for students to return to the same school. But, he added, "We want to keep these kids together. They need to support each other."
Police are holding the school as a crime scene, and may continue to do so for months. They are also continuing their investigation at the home of the gunman and his mother.
'If Noah had not been taken from us, he would have become a great man.'—Alexis Haller, uncle of six-year-old victim
Vance also told reporters that police have seized some evidence, but he did not disclose what that might be.
With the community still grappling to come to grips with the violence, U.S. President Barack Obama gave his condolences at an interfaith vigil at Newtown High School on Sunday evening
"I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation," Obama said. "I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you."
'Tragedies must end,' president says
The president closed his remarks by reading aloud the names of all the victims, saying, "God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory."
Obama, who is entering his second term in office, noted that he has made four trips since 2008 to visit communities grieving in the wake of a mass shooting.
"These tragedies must end," Obama said. "And to end them, we must change."
Investigators have offered no motive for Friday's massacre. But they have confirmed the identity of the gunman as Adam Lanza, 20, and verified that his mother, Nancy Lanza, was his first victim.
A Connecticut official said the 52-year-old woman was found dead in her pyjamas in bed in the home the two shared, shot four times in the head with a .22-calibre rifle.
Adam Lanza then went to Sandy Hook on Friday morning with his mother's firearms, got inside the secured school by breaking a window and began shooting, the official said.
Officials have said Lanza was carrying a large quantity of ammunition, and that he took his own life when police began to close in.