Sandy Hook school massacre: six questions answered
A tearful President Obama pledges 'meaningful action' after 20 children die in Connecticut
EDITOR’S UPDATE, Sunday, 9.10 am: Since this article was posted, police have announced that Adam Lanza used a semi-automatic rifle as his primary weapon. They also believe he broke into the school rather than being buzzed through by the principal. They are still searching for a motive.
THE WORLD watched aghast as the news came through yesterday of the massacre of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a prosperous community 60 miles northeast of New York City. The 20-year-old killer, Adam Lanza, had shot his mother at home before setting off to the school and committed suicide at the end of his rampage, bringing the death toll to 28. President Obama, in an emotional address to the nation, said: "Our hearts are broken." He pledged "meaningful action" and ordered flags to be flown at half-mast across the country.
How did Lanza get hold of the guns?
Lanza used two semi-automatic 9mm handguns, a Glock and a Sig Sauer, and left a Bushmaster assault rifle in his car. All were legally registered to his mother, Nancy Lanza, a teacher at the school. Why a woman living in a pleasant community in Connecticut would need such firepower - and why a mother with a "troubled" son was allowed such weapons in the house - are questions gun control advocates will be pushing for answers to.
Why was he allowed into the school?
Lanza was let in because the head teacher, Dawn Hochsprung, recognised him as teacher Nancy Lanza’s son and buzzed him through security, unaware he was dressed in a black commando outfit and carrying handguns. Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherloch were among the first to be killed. They jumped from their seats to investigate when they heard shots fired in the corridor. "They didn’t think twice about confronting [him]," Diane Day, a school therapist who was in a meeting with Hochsprung at the time, told the Wall Street Journal.
Why did so many die?
Most of those killed were confined to two classrooms and it took Lanza a matter of seconds to shoot them. The Times reports that one entire nursery class of children aged between five and six was massacred.
What was Lanza's motive?
Police currently have no clues. The 20-year-old had no criminal record but has been described variously as "troubled", "possibly autistic" and "socially awkward". A family friend told ABC News that he was "obviously not well" while another said he "was not connected with the other kids". A neighbour told the Wall Street Journal: "He was kind of a loner and shy. He didn't look you in the eye." It is thought Lanza may been carrying ID belonging to his older brother, Ryan Lanza, 24, an employee at Ernst & Young in New York. When the massacre was first reported, Ryan was erroneously identified as the shooter.
Is it the worst school killing ever?
Yes, if you don’t count universities. Yesterday's death toll of 27 (excluding Lanza's mother, shot at home) makes it America's deadliest school shooting. But some American media call it the second deadliest because of the incident at Virginia Tech in 2007. Then, 33 people were left dead when a South Korean student, Cho Seung-hui, went on a rampage at Virginia Tech. He also used a 9mm Glock.
Will it lead to new gun controls?
The pressure on Washington to do something is mounting. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said: "The country needs [President Obama] to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for 'meaningful action' is not enough. We need immediate action." Michael Tomasky, writing for the Daily Beast, noted that pro-gun control protesters gathering in Washington DC yesterday were now calling themselves anti-massacre activists. "That's a name-change I wholly endorse." But as The Guardian points out, recent opinion polls have shown "overwhelming opposition" to gun restrictions and in this year’s presidential election, both sides avoided the issue. And The Independent reminds us that after each similar tragedy "there have been ritual rumblings about the need for greater gun control, but little meaningful action". That's because any president faces a battle in Congress and the courts if he seeks to tamper with the Second Amendment - the right of the American people to keep and bear arms.