First funerals for Newtown victims as U.S. schools confront tragedy

FAIRFIELD/NEWTOWN, Connecticut Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:22am IST

1 of 5. A woman weeps while visiting a memorial to the victims of the recent shooting in Sandy Hook Village in Newtown, Connecticut, December 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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FAIRFIELD/NEWTOWN, Connecticut (Reuters) - One boy was buried in his hero's football jersey in a small white coffin. Balloons and a teddy bear welcomed mourners to the funeral of his first grade schoolmate.

The two funerals on Monday ushered in what will be a week of memorial services and burials for the 20 children and six adults massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Mourners packed into the funeral for the youngest victim, Noah Pozner, age 6.

"Every time I told Noah, 'I love you,' he always answered, 'Not as much as I love you,'" his mother, Veronique Pozner, told mourners at his funeral, recalled Rabbi Edgar Gluck after the burial service.

The deaths of so many children, all ages 6 and 7, sparked new talk of gun control in Washington, long reluctant to take on the highly charged issue, with U.S. President Barack Obama meeting key advisers and one pro-gun senator calling on the nation's gun lobby to rethink its position.

The shooting sent waves of anxiety across the country on the first school day since a 20-year-old gunman opened fire on the students and teachers in the close-knit community, located 80 miles northeast of New York City, last week.

Lockdowns were declared at schools in nearby Connecticut and New York towns on fears of danger that turned out to be unfounded. In southern California, Indiana, Tennessee and Ohio, authorities arrested men on Sunday for making threats against schools.

Newtown's schools remained closed after a weekend of mourning that followed Adam Lanza's shooting spree on Friday that claimed 28 lives, including his mother's and his own.

'VIVACIOUS YOUNG BOY'

At the funeral for Jack Pinto, also 6, in Newtown, about a half dozen children wearing a wrestling's club gold medals took off the awards and gave them to their teammate's parents. A New York Giants fan, Jack was dressed in a red-and-white jersey with receiver Victor Cruz's number 80 as he lay in an open white casket.

"Jack was an incredibly loving and vivacious young boy, appreciated by all who knew him for his lively and giving spirit and steely determination," his parents, Dean and Tricia Pinto, and brother said in his obituary in the Newtown Bee newspaper.

In Fairfield, a teddy bear and bouquet of white flowers lay at the base of an oak tree outside the Jewish service for Pozner, whose twin sister, Arielle, escaped unhurt.

"Noah was an impish, larger-than-life little boy," his parents and four siblings said in an obituary, also in the Bee. "Everything he did conveyed action and energy through love. He was the light of our family, a little soul devoid of spite."

THORNY POLITICAL ISSUE

A day after meeting with families of victims and addressing a shocked nation from Newtown, Obama on Monday held a White House meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and three Cabinet members to discuss ways to respond.

An administration spokesman said Obama's plan for action to curb violence includes gun control "but is far from all of it." He declined to offer specific details.

Gun control is a politically charged topic in the United States, with the powerful National Rifle Association mustering strong resistance to tighter rules on gun ownership.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg lashed out at fellow politicians for their reluctance to take on the gun lobby.

"Somehow or other, we've come to think that getting re-elected is more important than saving lives, that political power is more important than saving lives," he said in an angry, emotional press conference at New York City Hall. "Enough."

A growing number of U.S. lawmakers called for a look at curbing assault weapons like the one used in the massacre. The ban on the weapons expired in 2004.

"Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered. This never happened in America, that I can recall," said Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who has earned top marks from the gun industry. "This has changed where we go from here."

A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that the massacre had influenced Americans' thinking on guns. Some 50 percent of people surveyed after the shooting agreed that "gun ownership should have strong regulations of restrictions," up from 42 percent who agreed with that statement before Friday's shooting.

INVESTIGATION GOES ON

Police said it could take months for them to finish their investigation into the attack, which started when Adam Lanza killed his mother, Nancy, at home, before driving to the school armed with a Bushmaster AR 15 rifle and two handguns. He left a shotgun in his car.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said he had decided on Friday to break the news to the parents and relatives who had spent hours waiting outside the school that their children were dead. That marked a departure from normal practice as officials were still struggling to formally identify all the bodies.

"There was a reluctance to tell parents and loved ones that the person they were waiting for was not going to return," Malloy said in a tearful press conference. "I made the decision that to have that go on any longer was wrong. I did it."

With Newtown schools closed, about 200 volunteers set up an indoor play area to keep children busy. Inside a local youth academy, volunteers urged a boy wearing Spider-Man sneakers, a girl carrying a stuffed Dalmatian toy and about 1,000 other children to join in athletics, board games and arts and crafts.

(Additional reporting by Peter Rudegeair, Ed Krudy, Dan Burns, Hilary Russ, Dan Trotta, Kim Palmer, Jonathan Allen and Susan Heavey; Writing by Scott Malone and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jackie Frank)

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