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Day of soul-searching, grief: Conn. town mourns as police look for answers

Stories of heroism, help emerge amid questions of 'why?'

Published: Friday, Aug. 28 2015 9:14 p.m. MDT

Andrea Jaeger places flowers and a candle at a makeshift memorial outside a firehouse that was a staging area for families following the shooting. (Mario Tama, Getty Images) Andrea Jaeger places flowers and a candle at a makeshift memorial outside a firehouse that was a staging area for families following the shooting. (Mario Tama, Getty Images)

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Investigators tried to figure out what led a bright but painfully awkward 20-year-old to slaughter 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school, while townspeople sadly took down some of their Christmas decorations and struggled Saturday with how to go on.

The tragedy brought forth soul-searching and grief around the globe. Families as far away as Puerto Rico began to plan funerals for victims who still had their baby teeth, world leaders extended condolences, and vigils were held around the United States.

Relatives of the shooter, whose victims included his mother, were at a loss for words.

"The whole family is traumatized by this event," said a police official who knows the family. A family statement read: "We reach out to the community of Newtown and express our heartfelt sorrow for this incomprehensible and profound loss of innocence."

Elizabeth Bogdanoff, left, kisses her daughter Julia, 13, both of Newtown, Conn., during a prayer service at St John's Episcopal Church, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (David Goldman, Associated Press) Elizabeth Bogdanoff, left, kisses her daughter Julia, 13, both of Newtown, Conn., during a prayer service at St John's Episcopal Church, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (David Goldman, Associated Press)

Amid the sorrow, stories of heroism emerged, including an account of the Sandy Hook Elementary School principal and the school psychologist who lost their lives rushing toward the gunman, Adam Lanza, in an attempt to stop him.

Police shed no light on what triggered the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, though state police Lt. Paul Vance said investigators had found "very good evidence ... that our investigators will be able to use in painting the complete picture, the how and, more importantly, the why." He would not elaborate.

However, another law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators have found no note or manifesto from Lanza of the sort they have come to expect after murderous rampages such as the Virginia Tech bloodbath in 2007 that left 33 people dead.

Molly Delaney, left, holds 11-year-old daughter Milly during a service in honor of the victims who died a day earlier. (Associated Press) Molly Delaney, left, holds 11-year-old daughter Milly during a service in honor of the victims who died a day earlier. (Associated Press)

The mystery deepened as Newtown education officials said they had found no link between Lanza's mother and the school, contrary to news reports that said she was a teacher there. Investigators said they believe Adam Lanza attended Sandy Hook Elementary many years ago, but they had no explanation for why he went there on Friday.

Lanza shot to death his mother, Nancy Lanza, at the home they shared, then drove to the school in her car with at least three of her guns, forced his way inside and opened fire in two classrooms, authorities said. Within minutes, he killed 20 children, six adults and himself.

James Champion, Nancy Lanza's brother and a retired police captain in Kingston, N.H., said through the police chief that he had not seen his nephew in eight years. Champion, who still works as a part-time officer, said he would not discuss what might have triggered the rampage since the case is under investigation.

On Saturday, Chief Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver said all the victims at the school were shot with a rifle, at least some of them up close, and all of them were apparently shot more than once. All six adults killed at the school were women. Of the 20 children, eight were boys and 12 were girls. All the children were 6 or 7 years old.

Shop owners Tamara Doherty, left, and Jackie Gaudet, right, meet outside their stores for the first time since being neighbors, just down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (David Goldman, Associated Press) Shop owners Tamara Doherty, left, and Jackie Gaudet, right, meet outside their stores for the first time since being neighbors, just down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (David Goldman, Associated Press)

The tragedy plunged Newtown into mourning and added the picturesque New England community of handsome colonial homes, red-brick sidewalks and 27,000 people to the grim map of towns where mass shootings in recent years have periodically reignited the national debate over gun control but led to little change.

Signs around town read, "Hug a teacher today," "Please pray for Newtown" and "Love will get us through."

"People in my neighborhood are feeling guilty about it being Christmas. They are taking down decorations," said Jeannie Pasacreta, a psychologist who was advising parents struggling with how to talk to their children.

The list of the dead was released Saturday, but in the tightly knit town, nearly everyone already seemed to know someone who died.

Among the dead: well-liked Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, who town officials say tried to stop the rampage and paid with her life; school psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, who probably would have helped survivors grapple with the tragedy; a teacher thrilled to have been hired this year; and a 6-year-old girl who had just moved to Newtown from Canada.

Robbie Parker, the father of six-year-old Emilie who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, speaks during a news conference, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. (David Goldman, Associated Press) Robbie Parker, the father of six-year-old Emilie who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, speaks during a news conference, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. (David Goldman, Associated Press)

Nancy Lanza, who was once a stockbroker for John Hancock in Boston and once lived in Kingston, N.H., was a kind, considerate and loving person, Kingston Police Chief Donald Briggs Jr. said.

"She was very involved in the community and very well-respected," Briggs said.

Authorities said Adam Lanza had no criminal history, and it was not clear whether he had a job. Lanza was believed to have suffered from a personality disorder, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lanza had been diagnosed with Asperger's, a mild form of autism often characterized by social awkwardness. People with the disorder are often highly intelligent. While they can become frustrated more easily, there is no evidence of a link between Asperger's and violent behavior, experts say.

Shop owner Tamara Doherty paces outside her store just down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at the school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (David Goldman, Associated Press) Shop owner Tamara Doherty paces outside her store just down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at the school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (David Goldman, Associated Press)

Sandy Hook Elementary will be closed next week — some parents can't even conceive of sending their children back, Leidlein said — and officials are deciding what to do about the town's other schools.

Asked whether the town would recover, Maryann Jacob, a clerk in the school library who took cover in a storage room with 18 fourth-graders during the shooting rampage, said: "We have to. We have a lot of children left."

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