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Holder in Newtown to focus on gun violence

Updated 10:21 pm, Thursday, December 20, 2012
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  • A roadside memorial along Route 34 for victims from last Friday's shooting...
  • A memorial at Newtown High School for victims from last Friday's shooting...
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National revulsion over the slaughter of innocents in Newtown a week ago Friday morning had top federal officials from the White House to the Justice Department focused Thursday on gun violence and what can be done to prevent the next bloodbath.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with first responders in Newtown following a meeting earlier in the day with Vice President Joe Biden and other law enforcement officials about a meaningful response to last week's massacre, which left 20 children and six educators dead.

Holder did not appear publicly and the feds did not release details of his visit. His motorcade could be seen leaving an area near the Sandy Hook Elementary School building around 7:20 p.m.

Local officials said Holder first met with police officers, firefighters and EMTs at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire House, where last Friday agonized family members of the school's staff and students waited to learn the grim fate of their loved ones.

Before his trip to Connecticut, Holder was one of several Cabinet members who met with Biden after President Barack Obama tapped him to lead a task force on gun violence following the shooting rampage.

The president, who made an emotional visit to this shattered but resolute community Sunday night, told the vice president he wanted the panel to deliver concrete proposals that would make a real difference.

"The president is absolutely committed to keeping his promise that we will act," Biden told reporters in Washington. "Even if, as he says, we can only save one life, we have to take action."

State Police are still investigating the deadly attack carried out by Adam Lanza, 20, who murdered his mother before the bloodbath at the elementary school before killing himself as police closed in.

Lt. J. Paul Vance, who was among those who met with Holder, released no new information about the probe. It could take as many as six months before the official report on the shooting is released, Vance said.

Funerals were held Thursday for two school staff members, teacher Lauren Rousseau and paraprofessional Anne Marie Murphy, and four students, Jesse Lewis, Catherine Hubbard, Benjamin Wheeler and Allison Wyatt.

Meanwhile, Nancy Lanza was buried in an undisclosed location in her native state of New Hampshire after a small, private ceremony there.

Kingston Police Chief Donald Briggs said about 25 family members attended the ceremony in the small town where Lanza once lived -- and first learned to handle firearms.

Nancy Lanza -- who pals described as a survivalist obsessed with the possibility of a pending worldwide economic collapse -- later amassed a deadly arsenal that included the semi-automatic Bushmaster assault rifle used in the killings and powerful Glock and Sig Sauer handguns among other guns.

Holder was joined in the meeting by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the meeting.

Biden said he would reach out to all the stakeholders in the debate.

In announcing the task force, Obama instructed Biden to deal not only with new gun laws, but also asked the panel to look into mental health and cultural issues.

Biden convened the task force's first working group since the Newtown shootings by noting his involvement in writing the 1994 crime bill, which banned military-style assault weapons and strengthened federal gun licensing requirements.

"We have to have a comprehensive way in which to respond to the mass murder of our children that we saw in Connecticut," Biden said.

The National Rifle Association, an advocate for gun rights, has scheduled a news conference in Washington for today.

Thursday night, as the investigation continued, federal agents raided a gun shop in East Windsor where Nancy Lanza bought one of the guns used in the shooting.

WFSB Eyewitness News reported the shop has had issues with theft. On Saturday, a South Windsor man was arrested after police said they learned he stole a AR-15 rifle, the same type of long-gun used by Adam Lanza, from the store, Riverview Gun Sales.

Police told WFSB the thief, Jordan Marsh, 26, of South Windsor, was planning a shooting spree similar to Lanza's. He also stole 11 guns from the same store last year, police said.

In 2007, State Police found that more than 30 guns were missing from the Riverview inventory. Sources told WFSB that the store is known for its low prices, but it wasn't known why Nancy Lanza traveled more than 60 miles from her home to the store to buy the gun.

David LaGuercia, owner of the shop, issued a statement on Wednesday confirming he sold one gun to Nancy and that he's cooperating with authorities.

Lanza was carrying the two handguns and the Bushmaster, all legally purchased, when he carried out the second-deadliest school shooting in American history. Police said he had enough ammunition with him to kill every student in the school.

The victims of the shooting will be remembered today at 9:30 a.m. during a moment of silence. Churches around the country will ring 26 bells to honor the victims.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy requested the remembrance and signed a proclamation making Friday a "Day of Mourning."

More than 100,000 churches will participate in the bell ringing, while several governors have joined Malloy in calling for a moment of silence. The White House said Obama will also observe the moment of silence.

Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra and other elected officials and residents plan to meet on the steps of Edmond Town Hall in Newtown for the moment of silence, as bells from the nearby Trinity Episcopal Church ring 26 times.

Also Friday, many video gamers around the country will put down their virtual weapons for a "day of online shooter cease fire."

The organizers of the event said they don't blame violent video games for the shooting, but said they are doing it to honor the victims.

Students won't be in school Friday in New Milford, about 20 miles north of Newtown. Classes were canceled for the entire school district as a result of multiple threats received in the days after the Sandy Hook shooting.

Police said there is no immediate danger to students, determining the rumors and threats were unsubstantiated. But the town's schools superintendent decided it was "in the best interest of the community" to cancel school, because of increased scrutiny on school safety after the Newtown massacre. Police recommended the cancelation.

Sgt. James Brady said Thursday evening that no arrests have been made in connection to any threats.

Staff writers Libor Jany, Dirk Perrefort, Eileen FitzGerald and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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