NEWTOWN, Conn. — 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 plan any formal remarks Friday morning, 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, 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."
The briefing was interrupted twice by people carrying signs protesting the organization. The protesters were taken from the room.
Traffic stopped in the streets outside the town hall in Newtown 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."
Milysa Musiel, 21, came from neighboring Monroe and said she felt helpless.
"Everybody wants to do something," she said. "It shook that false sense of security that we had. This is my backyard."
Chip Carpenter, a volunteer with the police and fire department, said he was upset to see the wind knocking down tents for memorials.
"I was so distraught this morning," he said. "I just cried for the longest time. Just seeing everything falling apart. We suffered enough here."