NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — The gunman in the Connecticut school shooting was carrying an arsenal of hundreds of rounds of especially deadly ammunition — enough to kill just about every student in the elementary school if given enough time, authorities said Sunday.
Adam Lanza shot himself in the head just as he heard police drawing near to the classroom where he was slaughtering children, but he had more ammunition at the ready in the form of multiple high-capacity clips, each capable of holding 30 bullets.
The disclosure Sunday sent shudders throughout this picturesque New England community as grieving families sought to comfort one another during church services devoted to impossible questions like that of a 6-year-old girl who asked her mother: “The little children, are they with the angels?”
Hours later, President Barack Obama told mourners at a vigil that the nation is failing to keep its children safe. He pledged to seek change in memory of the 26 schoolchildren and teachers who died Friday.
“What choice do we have?” Obama asked. “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”
Obama said that in the coming weeks, he would use “whatever power this office holds” to engage with law enforcement, mental health professionals, parents and educators in an effort to prevent more tragedies like the one that befell Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days,” Obama said, somber and steady as some in the audience wept.
“If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no,” the president said. “And we will have to change.”
Obama conceded that none of his words would ease the sorrow. But he declared to the community of Newtown: “You are not alone.”
Privately, Obama told Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy that Friday was the most difficult day of his presidency.
With so much grieving left to do, many of Newtown’s 27,000 people wondered whether life could ever return to normal. And as the workweek was set to begin, parents pondered whether to send their children back to school.
Malloy said the gunman decided to kill himself when he heard police closing in about 10 minutes into the attack.
“We surmise that it was during the second classroom episode that he heard responders coming and apparently at that decided to take his own life,” the governor said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Police said they had found hundreds of unused bullets at the school, which enrolled about 450 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.
“There was a lot of ammo, a lot of clips,” State Police Lt. Paul Vance said. “Certainly a lot of lives were potentially saved.”
The chief medical examiner has said the ammunition was designed to expend its energy in the victim’s tissues and stay inside the body to inflict the maximum amount of damage.
Newtown officials couldn’t say whether Sandy Hook Elementary School would ever reopen. The school district was considering sending students to an empty school in nearby Monroe. But for many parents, it was much too soon to contemplate resuming school-day routines.
“We’re just now getting ready to talk to our son about who was killed,” said Robert Licata, the father of a boy who escaped harm at the school. “He’s not even there yet.”
Newtown Police Lt. George Sinko said he thought students “would find it very difficult” to return to the same school where they came so close to death.
But, he added, “We want to keep these kids together. They need to support each other.”
Also Sunday, a Connecticut official said the gunman’s mother was found dead in her pajamas in bed, shot four times in the head. The killer then went to the school with guns he took from his mother, got inside by breaking a window and began blasting his way throughout the building.
Federal agents have concluded that Lanza visited an area shooting range, but they do not know whether he actually practiced shooting there.
Agents also determined that Lanza’s mother visited shooting ranges several times, but it’s still not clear whether she brought her son to the range or whether he ever fired a weapon there.
Investigators have offered no motive for the shooting, and police have found no letters or diaries that could shed light on it. School Superintendent Janet Robinson said they had found no connection between Lanza’s mother and the school, in contrast to accounts from authorities Friday that said she had worked there.
Investigators have said they believe Adam Lanza attended Sandy Hook many years ago, but they couldn’t explain why he went there Friday.
Authorities said Lanza had no criminal history, and it was not clear whether he had a job.
A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, has said Lanza had been diagnosed with Asperger’s, a mild form of autism often characterized by social awkwardness.
This report includes material from the New York Times.