A family prays near a statue of the Virgin Mary outside Saint Rose of Lima… (Frank Becerra / The Journal…)
NEWTOWN, Conn. -- As this small town began the painful mourning period for those killed in the attack at an elementary school, officials continued to try to piece together what happened -- and why.
Hundreds of people crammed the pews at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church on Friday night, about 10 hours after a gunman opened fire in the elementary school, killing 20 children and six adults there before apparently killing himself. Mourners filled the entry hall and stood outside in the cold night in the parking area. Men and women openly wept, their eyes reddened from previous mourning.
“It's a great place to live,” Brian Wallace, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport said of the town’s effort to deal with the shootings. “It’s that small-town America everyone dreams about.”
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Condolences were common throughout the day, including a special message from Pope Benedict XVI. “I convey my heartfelt grief,” the pontiff said.
Prayer and sadness echoed throughout the St. Rose church.
“May God bless our children today, and those who were taken away,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said at the service. “May God bless the adults who lost their lives today.”
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Earlier, the governor -- one of many officials to pay their respects Friday night -- warned that it will take time for recovery in small town which had “been visited by evil.”
As the mourning continued, officials were piecing together the chaotic day. For the shooting suspect, Adam Lanza, the day began at home, federal law enforcement sources said.
Part of the confusion was that Lanza apparently was carrying his older brother Ryan’s identification, these sources said.
Earlier, law enforcement sources had identified the shooter as Ryan Lanza, who was later questioned by police. The elder brother was not believed to have been involved in the rampage.
Adam Lanza shot his mother, Nancy, to death at her house and then drove her car, a Honda, to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where Nancy was a familiar presence, these sources said.
That shooting would be the first in a day of death in this town of about 27,000 people in western Connecticut.
At the school, Adam Lanza got out of the car armed with two weapons -- a Sig Sauer semiautomatic pistol and a Glock 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol, law enforcement sources said.
“Both are able to inflict heavy damage,” one of the sources said. Adam Lanza left a third weapon in the back seat of the car: a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle. All three weapons were legally registered to his parents, who are divorced.
Lanza was wearing black BDUs -- formally known as a battle dress uniform or military-style fatigues, sources said.
“There was an argument in the hallway, apparently about how he got in there, and the first shots were fired,” one of the sources said, adding that the shooter then headed into a nearby classroom and continued firing.
Officials said all of the shots were in a small area -- just two rooms.
In all, 18 children were pronounced dead at the scene along with six adults. Two children were pronounced dead at a hospital. The toll stood at 28, including the gunman.
As of Friday night, officials were trying to figure out how many shots were fired.
“It’s too early to count them all,” a law enforcement source said. He added that, as of yet, no suicide note has been found. “It’s too soon to say why he did what he did.”
The shooter’s last act was against himself, the source said. He “killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound” inside the school, apparently as police were first responding to the scene. The police never fired a shot.
“It was over when they got there,” the source said.
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Susman reported from Connecticut and Serrano from Washington. Times staff writer Michael Muskal in Los Angeles contributed to this report.