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 in rain and wind on the steps of the Edmond 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 make any formal remark, and similar commemorations took place 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 privately observed the moment of silence.
Just a week after the attack on the first grade students and members of the school's staff, 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, at its first public event since the shootings, called Friday for armed police officers to be posted in American school to stop the next killer "waiting in the wings."
Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the nation's largest gun-rights lobby with 4.3 million members, said at the Washington news conference that, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
He blamed video games, movies and music videos for exposing children to a violent culture.
Though security was tight, the briefing was interrupted twice by people holding up signs that blamed the NRA for killing children. The protesters were taken from the room.
Newtown schools superintendent Janet Robinson told The Associated Press on Friday that consolidating the first grade classes at Sandy Hook Elementary School is part of the process of preparing for the students' return Jan. 3 to a refurbished middle school in Monroe. She said most of the classes will remain intact, except the first grade where 20 students were killed. She said one of the three classes has a single remaining student.
Traffic stopped in the streets outside the town hall in Newtown early Friday as bells rang out to honor the dead.
Malloy, taking deep breaths with his hands folded in front of him, was joined by the Newtown superintendent of schools, lawmakers and other officials as bells rang out at the nearby Trinity Episcopal Church.
Firefighters bowed their heads around a memorial filled with teddy bears, other stuffed animals and a New York Giants pillow. Some hugged and onlookers shook their hands afterward.
"When I heard the 26 bells ring it just melted my soul," said Kerrie Glassman, of Sandy Hook, who said she knew seven of the victims. "It's just overwhelming. You just can't believe this happened in our town."
Among those who gathered in Newtown was a group of 13 survivors of the 2005 school shooting on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota. The group drove nearly 1,500 miles to support and comfort the families and survivors. They brought gifts intended to bring a message of resilience and hope, including a plaque that survivors of the 1999 Columbine shooting gave to them after their experience.