Newtown Grapples with Tragedy as Hero Teacher, 3 More Children Are Laid to Rest

The heartbreaking succession of funerals continued in Newtown, Conn. on Wednesday as mourners said goodbye to a hero teacher who sacrificed her life for her students, a 7-year-old boy who dreamed of being a firefighter, a 6-year-old girl who wanted to be a veterinarian, and a 6-year-old called "Silly Caroline" by her family because she made everyone smile.

Bagpipes wailed, church bells tolled and tears flowed as teacher Victoria Soto was laid to rest. Soto, 27, has been hailed as a hero for dying while trying to protect her students, some of whom managed to escape a gunman who would slaughter Soto, five more school employees and 20 kids before taking his own life last week.

"She was a hero -- a true hero," said Soto's cousin Robert Matos. "She's probably gonna be remembered forever for this."

"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.

At the family request, singer Paul Simon performed the "Sounds of Silence" at Soto's service.

At the funeral for 7-year-old Daniel Barden, hundreds of firefighters formed a long blue line outside St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church. A gap-toothed redhead described by family as "always smiling, unfailingly polite, incredibly affectionate," Daniel wanted to be a firefighter. And many came from New York, where his family has relatives who are firefighters, to pay their respect.

"It was one of the hardest funerals I was ever at, to have someone so young to have his life ended tragically like that," said FDNY Lt. Eric Torres.

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.

Two 6-year-old girls, Charlotte Bacon, who loved pink and animals and wanted to be veterinarian, and Caroline Previdi were also laid to rest Wednesday.

"She was just a doll," said Pam Fehrs, a friend of the Previdi family. "She was happy -- dancing and happy everywhere she went."

Meanwhile 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 the 20-year-old 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.

A Connecticut gun shop owner said Wednesday that he sold a gun several years ago to Nancy Lanza, and was "appalled" that it may have been used in the killings. David LaGuercia, owner of Riverview Gun Sales in East Windsor, said in a statement he is cooperating with police.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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