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US school victims mostly six years old
SHATTERED families and grieving residents are devastated that most of the 27 people shot dead by a
school gunman are children aged just six and seven. US
President Barack Obama is due to join the vigils in the small Connecticut community of Newtown on Sunday, to lead national mourning after this latest massacre that has revived calls for a debate on gun control.
But the political ramifications of the tragedy are far from the minds of most in this picturesque town, where parents of the survivors and the dead are struggling to come to terms with the stunning loss.
Robbie Parker, a 30-year-old hospital assistant who cares for sick newborns, says the death of his loving six-year-old Emilie should "inspire us to be better, more compassionate and caring toward other people."
He included the family of the apparent shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, in his condolences, addressing them through the news media to say: "I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you."
Robert and Diane Licata described how their six-year-old son Aiden ran past the shooter in his classroom doorway to escape after seeing his teacher gunned down - and recounted their desperate search for him.
Diane Licata told CNN she had rushed to the school to see her daughter led out of the building but there was no sign of Aiden.
"So the kids start to come out and when I saw her, you know, the sense of relief is incredible, but it's really short-lived because I still have one in there. And I'm waiting for him to come. And he didn't come out," she said.
"When you're standing there waiting....it's an indescribable feeling of helplessness."
Licata eventually received a text that her son was safe at a nearby police station.
Aiden was later able to explain his escape.
She said his class heard noises that initially sounded like hammers.
"Then they realised that it was gunshots."
"Aiden's teacher had the presence of mind to move all of the children to a distance away from the door... and that's when the gunman burst in," Licata said.
The gunman had "no facial expressions" she said, adding that he "proceeded to shoot their teacher."
children are taught how to react during an emergency,
so Aiden and his classmates quickly made their way to the door where the gunman
was standing and ran past him. Some of them survived. US
"He (Aiden) really, really, really cared about his teacher. He knows that she's been hurt but he doesn't know the end result. He knows the kids that he saw getting shot."
A police spokesman said Lanza is believed to have shot his mother at the home they shared before launching his attack at the nearby school.
He had two handguns but the coroner told reporters that most of the children and staff were killed by multiple gunshots from his assault rifle, a .223 calibre Bushmaster, a civilian version of the
military's M4. US
Lanza's father Peter expressed shock and grief at the horror caused by his son.
"No words can truly express how heartbroken we are," he said in a statement vowing to continue co-operating with law enforcement.
"We, too, are asking why?"
Connecticut State Police released the identity of the victims, aged six to 56.
They included 16 six-year-olds and four seven-year-olds.
Twelve of the 20 slain children were girls and eight were boys.
The six adults killed were all women, including the school's principal and its psychologist.
The motives of the shooter are still the biggest mystery.
Asked whether any suicide note, emails or other clues to the killer's mind had been found, Connecticut State Police spokesman Lieutenant J Paul Vance said investigators have gathered "some very good evidence."
Lanza was a shy, awkward and nerdy boy but hadn't apparently given any warning sign that he was a mass murderer.
The weapons, news reports said, were registered in his mother's name but she was widely seen as an upstanding resident in the town.
The tragedy drew messages of support from around the world, and candlelight vigils are being held.
campus shootings, the toll was second only to the 32
murders in the 2007 massacre at US . Virginia Tech University
The latest number far exceeded the 15 killed in the 1999
massacre, which triggered a fierce but inconclusive debate about gun control
laws in the Columbine High
School . United
However, the White House has scotched any suggestion that the politically explosive subject would be quickly reopened.