Saturday, December 15, 2012

Shock as 20 children killed in school shooting

No-one, least of all a parent, could have failed to have been shocked by the tragedy in Connecticut that left 20 children dead after a gunman went on the rampage in a school on Friday [14th December].


Within minutes of entering the complex, the gunman had shattered the lives of dozens of families and left a country reeling in shock at yet another senseless massacre. The horror touched everyone who heard the news and even the president failed to compose himself as he addressed the nation only hours after the killings.

"As a country we have been through this too many times,"  US President Barack Obama said. As he wiped tears from his eyes he called on politicians from all sides to join with him in finding ways of preventing another tragedy. "We're going to have to come together to take meaningful action regardless of the politics," Obama said.

He reflected on the lives lost and the dreams destroyed in a heartfelt response, not only as a president, but as a parent himself. "They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own," Obama said, "So our hearts are broken today." [CNN]

How the news broke

As Sky News broke the news in the late afternoon UK time, the scale of the tragedy was not immediately clear. Even US networks had not grasped the seriousness of the shooting as it broke some 45 minutes after shots were fired [BBC].

But as details gradually filtered through it became clear that this was one of America's worst shooting tragedies in recent years. Tweets sent soon after the shooting began seemed almost matter of fact, coming from a country where shooting are almost as common as traffic accidents.

"State police are responding to a report of a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown" NBC tweeted around 45 minutes after the gunman had entered the school.

Initial reactions were of concern, but not massive concern. "School shooting at sandy hook. I hope my mom is ok," one Twitter user posted. Another expressed shock that gun violence could come to such a sleepy rural district as Newtown. "Scary to know that things like this can even happen in my town," Twitter user and local resident Stacy Broughton wrote.

Scale of tragedy emerges

But it was another hour before the scale of the tragedy emerged and news stations informed the public that more than two dozen had died at the hands of a local resident.

The gunman, later identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, is said to have entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School dressed in black military style clothing and a bullet proof jacket. Armed with two handguns, a Glock and a Sig Sauer, Lanza opened fire on defenceless children and staff before apparently turning a weapon on himself.

Police later found a 0.223 Bushmaster rifle in the back of the car that Lanza drove to school. According to authorities Lanza's mother had four weapons legally registered, and his father had two. A Henry repeating rifle, an Enfield rifle and a shotgun were also recovered by police, though it was not clear where they were found.

"We heard shots and everybody went on the ground," one young girl told reporters who descended on the scene. The young students had cowered or tried to hide in cupboards but they were defenceless against the fire-power inflicted upon them. Police were alerted to the incident soon after shooting began at around 9:30 am, but despite their quick response they could not stop the senseless killing of some 20 children aged between 5 & 10 years of age.

In all 28 were left dead including the gunman himself. His mother, Nancy Lanza was found dead at her home, shot in the face before Adam Lanza made his way to the elementary school where he killed the principal, Dawn Hochsprung and 20 schoolchildren. A woman who worked at the school was wounded.

"Evil visits"

Police shed no light on Lanza's motive, though one law enforcement official said he may have had a personality disorder. An honor student, Lanza was described as being "remote" and "one of the goths" by fellow classmates. Whatever turned him into a savage killer might never be known, though some conspiracy theorists were already pointing fingers at authorities.

Radio presenter Alex Jones seemed to infer that the killings were "no accident" given the timing. There have been a number of shootings in the US and an increased number of calls to restrict gun ownership. In an angry rant posted on Prison Planet he suggested the authorities even "planned the killings".

For many Americans the right to bear arms is an important issue. Written into the second amendment of the US constitution, it is a right few would like to see eroded. However, high profile killings and massacres have changed the debate and many are now calling for stricter gun controls or even seek to abolish the second amendment [Sky News].

The killings in Newtown have certainly struck a nerve and been described in emotive language. "Evil visited this community today," Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said in a statement to reporters, as he called on everyone to "say a prayer."


The president too sought solace in religion, as he reflected on the day's events. "While nothing can fill the space of a lost child or loved one, all of us can extend a hand to those in need," Obama said before quoting from Psalms 147:3, "Heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds."

As armed police combed the scene, Adam Lanza's 24-year-old brother Ryan, who had earlier been mistakenly identified as the gunman by media, was taken into custody by police in New Jersey. Law enforcement officials initially identified him as the suspect, though later clarified that he was merely helping with their investigation and was not under arrest.


Many newspapers on Saturday looked back to other school shootings, both in the US and around the world [France 24]. The Kansas City Star noted that there was sadly nothing new in such incidents, and reeled off a list of attacks on American soil.

But such incidents are not only confined to the United States. Even in countries with strict gun laws, attacks on schools have taken place, and the list is certainly extensive. In 1996 a 43-year-old gun collector Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children aged four to six and their teacher at a school in Dunblane, Scotland before killing himself [Dunblane School Massacre].

In April 1999 two youths aged 17 and 18 armed with guns and more than 30 home-made bombs killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine high school in Littleton, Colorado before they both committed suicide [Columbine High School Massacre].

Germany has seen several shootings. In April 2002 16 people, including 12 teachers and two students, were gunned down at a school in Erfurt in eastern Germany by a 19-year-old former student, apparently in revenge for having been expelled [Erfurt Massacre].

In 2004 one of the worst atrocities to take place at a school happened in Russia. The Beslan School Hostage Crisis saw at least 385 killed, 186 of which were children, and more than 700 others injured after armed Islamic separatist militants occupied School Number One in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia, an autonomous republic in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation.

April 2007 saw a South Korean student killing 32 people on his campus at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. He then killed himself [Virginia Tech Massacre].

In November of the same year Finland became  the scene of a mass shooting when an 18-year-old student opened fire in a school killing five boys, two girls and the headmistress before turning his gun on himself [Jokela School Shooting]. And in September, less than a year later eleven people, including the gunman, died in another massacre at a training school at Kauhajoki, Finland [Kauhajoki School Shooting].

Earlier this year a gunman killed seven people in a rampage at a California religious college, lining up his victims and shooting them one by one [Oikos University Shooting].

See also: List of attacks related to primary schools / List of attacks related to secondary schools / List of attacks related to post-secondary schools

Nightmare before Christmas

The shooting that shook Newtown is all the more tragic coming only 10 days before Christmas. At a time when most people would be looking forward to celebrating, surrounded by family members, there will be dozens of families looking for more comfort than joy as they grieve for their loved ones.

As the nation mourns there will also be some soul searching and calls for action to prevent another senseless tragedy.

More reports: BBC / Sky / CNN / NBC / al Jazeera / Xinhua / Daily Mail / Telegraph / Guardian / NYT

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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