Hundreds solemnly gathered in Washington’s National Cathedral on Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the Newtown school massacre and demand tougher laws to combat gun violence in the United States.
Pop icon Carole King was lined up to perform her 1977 song “In the Name of Love” at the late-afternoon vigil, which organizers hoped would pull the media spotlight away from the New England town where 20 first-grade pupils and six educators were killed.
Several Newtown residents, including relatives of the dead, were expected at the vigil spearheaded by the Newtown Foundation, a non-profit group that calls for tougher gun laws.
“As Christians, we follow one who died at the hands of human violence,” said the Episcopal cathedral’s dean Gary Hall, who noted that 32,000 have died this year in the United States in firearm-related incidents.
“We call our elected leaders to find the moral courage and the political will to lead us all into a new, safer era in American history,” said Hall in remarks released ahead of the vigil.
“Make us instruments of your peace, and strengthen our hearts and hands and minds — not only to care for the victims and survivors of gun violence, but also to bring about the change that will end the violence caused by guns in the hands of the criminal, the sick, and the cruel.”
Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza used an military-style semi-automatic rifle during his shooting spree in the classrooms and hallways of Sandy Hook Elementary School, then shot himself in the head on the morning of December 14, 2012.
He had earlier shot and killed his mother, who owned the guns he used, in her bed as a prelude to the second deadliest mass shooting by a single person in the United States after the Virgina Tech massacre in 2007 in which 33 died, including the lone gunman.
Newtown’s civic leaders have urged reporters to stay away from their picturesque and affluent community two hours’ drive from New York to enable it to mourn the victims and comfort each other in peace.
Many news organizations say they will respect the request, while the Newtown Bee newspaper, on its website Thursday, carried a photo of a sign outside a local church that read: “No media — police take notice.”
The school, shuttered after the bloodbath, underwent demolition in October, with plans afoot to erect a new school in its place.
In a report last month, Connecticut state attorney Stephen Sedensky said Lanza had “significant mental health issues” and an obsession with the Columbine high school massacre in Colorado in 1999 in which 15 died, including the two young gunmen.
But he said Lanza’s motive was a mystery.
“The evidence clearly shows that the shooter planned his actions, including the taking of his own life, but there is no clear indication why he did so,” the report said.
The majority of gun-related deaths in the United States involve suicide, but one group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, says an “escalating epidemic of gun violence” is claiming a child’s life every three hours and 15 minutes.
The shocking scale of Newtown triggered calls for tougher gun laws, in a nation where the right “to keep and bear arms” is enshrined in the Constitution and where there are, by some estimates, as many guns as people.
But a high-profile attempt by President Barack Obama to outlaw semi-automatic rifles and expand background checks for gun-buyers failed amid stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association and other gun groups.
The White House said earlier this week that Obama, the father of two young daughters, would honor the Newtown anniversary with a moment of silence on Saturday.
Moms Demand Action has meanwhile announced rallies in more than 35 states for Saturday, each featuring a communal ringing of bells “to remember the victims and show that the time for silence is over.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]