NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) - The chiming of bells reverberated throughout Newtown on Friday, commemorating one week since the crackle of gunfire in a schoolhouse killed 20 children and six adults in a massacre that has shaken the community — and the nation — to its core.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy gathered with other officials on the steps of the town hall as the bell rang 26 times in memory of each life lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The gunman also killed his mother before the massacre, and himself afterward.
Officials didn't plan any formal remarks Friday morning, when similar commemorations were planned throughout the country.
Though the massacre does not rank as the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history — that happened at Virginia Tech — the tender age of the victims and the absence of any apparent motive has struck at Americans' hearts and minds. The gunman used a military-style assault rifle loaded with ammunition intended to inflict maximum damage, officials have said.
The White House said President Barack Obama planned to privately observe the moment of silence.
Just a week after the attack, gun control has taken a front burner in Congress, where previous mass shootings produced only minimal legislative reaction. Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that the Obama administration would push to tighten gun laws.
The National Rifle Association plans a Friday morning news conference, its first public event since the shootings. The nation's largest gun-rights lobby with 4.3 million members has said it will offer "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."
When the bells tolled mournfully to honor the victims of last week's shooting rampage, they did so 26 times, for each child and staff member killed.
Rarely do residents mention the first person police said Adam Lanza killed that morning: his mother, Nancy, who was shot in the head four times while she lay in bed.
That makes 27.
A private funeral was held Thursday in New Hampshire for Nancy Lanza, according to Donald Briggs, the police chief in Kingston, N.H., where her funeral was held. About 25 family members attended the ceremony.
In Newtown, where makeshift memorials of stuffed animals, angels, candles, flowers and balloons have blossomed on patches of grass throughout town, there is only one noticeable tribute to Nancy Lanza. It's a letter written by a friend on yellow paper affixed, screwed and shellacked onto a red piece of wood.
"Others now share pain for choices you faced alone; May the blameless among us throw the first stone," it reads in part.
No one outwardly blames Nancy Lanza for the rampage. But authorities have said the gunman, her 20-year-old son Adam, used the guns she kept at their home to carry out a massacre that became the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history and has stirred lawmakers to call for gun control laws.
Nationwide, churches were to ring their bells Friday morning. Two gold balloons, one a 2, the other a 6, are tied to a bridge. Handwritten tributes mention 26 snowflakes. "26 angels will guide us," reads one.
The dearth of tributes to Nancy Lanza underscores the complicated mix of emotions surrounding her after the shooting.
In a small town where multiple funerals are taking place each day, where black-clad mourners stand in lines waiting to say goodbye to another child, many are incredibly angry at Nancy Lanza for not keeping her guns away from her son.
Some view her as a victim, but one whose guns were used to kill first-graders. And others think Nancy Lanza was an innocent victim, one who should be counted and included at memorials.
"It's a loss of life and, yes, her life mattered," said Christine Lombardi. "Yes, I do believe she should be included."
Others in Newtown are weary of the crush of media and have become reluctant to answer questions after a difficult week. But the subject of marking Nancy Lanza's death, along with those of the children and teachers killed by her son, seemed mainly to surprise two moms who stopped to place flowers at the memorial at Main and Sugar streets with their two grammar-school aged girls.
They paused, appeared bewildered, and looked at each other for a moment. Then one quietly said, "No, no," and they each took a girl's hand and led them away.
Newtown and environs weathered a fourth day of funerals Thursday as mourners laid to rest Catherine Hubbard, Benjamin Wheeler, Jesse Lewis and Allison Wyatt, all 6 years old; and Grace McDonnell, 7.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was one of the people to visit Newtown on Thursday, stopping by a firehouse.
Biden, who is overseeing the administration's response to last week's shooting, said he and Obama are "absolutely committed" to curbing gun violence in the United States.
"Even if we
can only save one life, we have to take action," he said.
Gun-control measures have faced fierce resistance in Congress for years, but that may be changing because of the events in Connecticut, which shocked the nation.
After the shooting, Obama signaled for the first time that he's willing to spend significant political capital on the issue. Some prominent gun-rights advocates on Capitol Hill — Democrats and Republicans alike — have expressed willingness to consider new measures.
Investigators have said that Nancy Lanza, a gun enthusiast, visited shooting ranges several times and that her son also visited an area range.
Authorities say Adam Lanza shot his mother at their home and then took her car and some of her guns to the school, where he broke in and opened fire. A Connecticut official said Nancy Lanza was shot four times in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.
Adam Lanza was wearing all black, with an olive-drab utility vest, during the school attack. Investigators have found no letters or diaries that could explain the rampage.
Friends and acquaintances have described him as intelligent, but odd and quiet.
Friends said he would stare down at the floor and not speak when she brought him into a local pizzeria. They knew that he'd switched schools more than once and that she'd tried home schooling him. But while she occasionally expressed concern about his future during evenings at the bar, she never complained.
"I heard her as a parent. I always said that I wouldn't want to be in her shoes. But I thought, 'Wow. She holds it well,'" said Jon Tambascio, son of the pizzeria operator.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Michael Melia, John Christoffersen and David Klepper in Newtown; Jim Fitzgerald in Katonah, N.Y.; and Frederic J. Frommer in Washington.