By DAVID KLEPPER and KATIE ZEZIMA, Associated Press
NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) _ For a third straight day Wednesday, funeral processions rolled through a grieving Connecticut town trying to make sense of the massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults in an elementary school less than two weeks before Christmas.
A 7-year-old boy who had dreamed of being a firefighter and a heroic first-grade teacher who died while trying to shield students from the carnage were among the victims laid to rest in what has become an unrelenting cycle of sorrow and loss.
“The first few days, all you heard was helicopters. Now at my office all I hear is the rumble of motorcycle escorts and funeral processions going back and forth throughout the day,” said Dr. Joseph Young, an optometrist who said he had already been to one funeral and would be going to several more.
Students in Newtown returned to school Tuesday, except those from Sandy Hook Elementary, where a gunman armed with a military-style assault rifle slaughtered the children and six teachers and administrators last Friday. He also killed his mother at her home.
Students at Sandy Hook, which serves kindergarten through fourth grade, will resume classes in a formerly shuttered school in a neighboring community in January.
President Barack Obama pressed Congress on Wednesday to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, and called for stricter background checks for people who seek to purchase weapons as well as a limit on high-capacity ammunition clips.
“This time, the words need to lead to action,” said Obama, who set a January deadline for the recommendations.
In Newtown, Education Secretary Arne Duncan held a closed meeting with Sandy Hook Elementary staff, and also planned to attend the wake of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung.
In the meantime, mourners overlapped at back-to-back funerals that started Monday and will continue all week.
The first of Wednesday’s funerals was for 7-year-old Daniel Barden, a gap-toothed redhead and the youngest of three children whose family called “a constant source of laughter and joy.”
“Always smiling, unfailingly polite, incredibly affectionate, fair and so thoughtful toward others,” the family said of the boy.
Hundreds of firefighters formed a long blue line outside St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church as bells sounded and bagpipes played. Daniel wanted to join their ranks one day, and many came from New York, where his family has relatives who are firefighters.
Family friend Laura Stamberg of New Paltz, N.Y., whose husband plays in a band with Daniel’s father, Mark, said Daniel was a thoughtful boy who held doors for people and would sit with another child if he saw one sitting alone.
She said that on the morning of the shooting, Mark Barden played a game with his son and taught him a Christmas song on the piano.
“They played foosball and then he taught him the song and then he walked him to the bus and that was their last morning together,” Stamberg said.
At the same time, in the town of Stratford, family and friends gathered to say goodbye to Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old teacher who was killed while trying to shield her students, some of whom managed to escape.
“She had the perfect job. She loved her job,” said Vicky Ruiz, a friend of Soto’s since first grade.
Every year, she said, Soto described her students the same way. “They were always good kids. They were always angels,” even if, like typical first-graders, they might not always listen, Ruiz said.
Students Charlotte Bacon and Caroline Previdi were to be laid to rest later Wednesday, and a wake was held for Hochsprung, the school’s popular 47-year-old principal. She and school psychologist Mary Sherlach rushed toward Lanza in an attempt to stop him and paid with their lives.
The massacre continued to reverberate around America as citizens and lawmakers debated whether Newtown might be a turning point in the often-polarizing national discussion over gun control.
Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management announced Tuesday it plans to sell its stake in Freedom Group, maker of the Bushmaster rifle, following the school shootings. In Pittsburgh, Dick’s Sporting Goods said it is suspending sales of modern rifles nationwide because of the shooting.
The company also said it’s removing all guns from display at its store closest to Newtown.
Lawmakers who have joined the call to consider gun control as part of a comprehensive, anti-violence effort next year included 10-term House Republican Jack Kingston, a Georgia lawmaker elected with strong National Rifle Association backing.
The National Rifle Association, silent since the shootings, said in a statement that it was “prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.” It gave no indication what that might entail.
And no indication has been made publicly about the motive of 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who, clad all in black, broke into Sandy Hook Elementary and opened fire on students and staff.
Authorities say the horrific events of Friday began when Lanza shot his mother, Nancy, at their home, and then took her car and some of her guns to the nearby school.
Investigators have found no letters or diaries that could explain the attack.
Zezima reported from Stratford. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Allen G. Breed, Helen O’Neill, John Christoffersen and Pat Eaton-Robb in Newtown; Michael Melia in Hartford; Larry Margasak and Josh Lederman in Washington and AP Business Writer Joshua Freed in Minneapolis.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)