16 Dec 2012

America in mourning

10:05 am on 16 December 2012

Flags in the United States will be flown at half-mast until Tuesday in honour of those killed in a mass shooting in a small town in Connecticut.

Twenty school children and seven adults were killed when a gunman opened fire at the Newtown Sandy Hook primary school shortly after 9:30am Friday (local time).

Grieving residents have held candlelight vigils and attended church services to remember the victims of the one of the worst mass shootings in American history.

The ABC reports police and medical experts are continuing their investigations and the formal identification of the dead - most of them aged between five and 10 years old.

Connecticut State Police said on Saturday that all the bodies were removed overnight.

Lieutenant Paul Vance said 18 children were pronounced dead at the school and two died after being taken to hospital. All were shot more than once, with a high-power automatic rifle.

Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother at their home before attacking the school, and then killing himself.

Lieutenant Vance said he forced his way into the building.

Six adults were also killed - including school principal Dawn Hochsprung - and the gunman died at the scene, apparently after shooting himself.

His mother was found dead at their home - some unconfirmed reports suggested she had worked at the school.

The BBC reports the gunman was dressed in combat clothes and was carrying at least two handguns.

A rifle was found in a vehicle outside the school. Three other guns were also recovered. Officials said

his mother had bought several weapons legally.

Friday's killings took place in two rooms within a single section of the school. The shooting lasted a few minutes.

Hearts ''heavy with hurt''

President Barack Obama urged Americans to join in solidarity as they mourn for those killed at the school, saying the hearts of parents across the country were "heavy with hurt" for the lives lost.

In his weekly address on Saturday, Mr Obama said the country needed to set aside politics and "take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this".

"As a nation, we have endured far too many of these tragedies in the last few years," he said.

"This weekend, Michelle and I are doing what I know every parent is doing - holding our children as close as we can and reminding them how much we love them.

"There are families in Connecticut who can't do that today. And they need all of us now."

In July, 12 people were killed at a premiere of a Batman film in Aurora, Colorado. In August six people died at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

The deaths have sparked fresh debate over the country's gun laws.