NEWTOWN, Connecticut (AP) – Church bells tolled in Newtown, Connecticut, on Saturday to mark the anniversary of the shooting massacre that killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and President Barack Obama called on Americans to help prevent future violence in a radio address on the tragedy.
The bells rang 26 times as names of each of the victims were read at St. Rose of Lima church in Newtown, one of several houses of worship that held private services Saturday for a community still grieving the deaths of 20 children and six educators.
Obama said in his radio address that the massacre at Sandy Hook will be remembered as a tragedy that inspired the nation to make communities safer.
"We have to do more to keep dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun so easily. We have to do more to heal troubled minds. We have to do everything we can to protect our children from harm and make them feel loved, and valued, and cared for," said Obama, who also observed a moment of silence and lit candles at the White House in honor of the victims.
A year ago, with the grief of the horrific school shootings still fresh, many predicted it would force Congress to approve long-stalled legislation to tighten U.S. gun laws. Led by Obama, gun control advocates called for background checks for all gun purchasers and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. But their efforts were thwarted by the gun rights lobby, led by the influential National Rifle Association; opposition from most Republicans and the reluctance of Democrats from Republican-leaning states to anger voters by further restricting firearms.
In the end, a divided Congress did not enact any new gun curbs in response to the Newtown shooting. There were not enough votes in the Senate to pass even a compromise on expanded background checks that was widely supported by voters. A handful of Democratic-led states, including Connecticut, did enact stricter gun control measures, but some Republican-controlled states, including Texas, loosened their gun laws to expand the rights of people to carry guns in public. Surveys suggest that support for new gun laws is slipping as the Newtown memory fades.
Still, some Newtown parents who lost children in the Sandy Hook massacre vowed to press on with the fight to reduce gun violence — no matter how long it takes.
"I know it's not a matter of if it happens. It's a matter of when. This absolutely keeps me going," said Nicole Hockley, who joined a handful of Newtown parents in a private White House meeting with Vice President Joe Biden this week. "No matter how much tragedy affects you, you have to find a way forward. You have to invest in life." Hockley's 6-year-old son Dylan was killed at Sandy Hook a year ago.
The 20-year-old gunman, Adam Lanza, killed his mother inside their Newtown home on Dec. 14, 2012, before driving to the school where he carried out his rampage with his parent's weapons. He killed himself as police arrived at the school.
Newtown residents asked for quiet and privacy on the anniversary.
Satellite television trucks filled Newtown's streets in the days after the shooting, and media have often returned since to the community of 28,000 people for stories related to the attack.
In an effort to keep the anniversary focused on quiet reflection, First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra announced in October that Newtown would not host any formal remembrance events. The news media were asked to keep their distance, and "No Media" signs went up around town as they did in the weeks after the tragedy.
Some news organizations stayed away Saturday from Newtown. A reporter and photographer for The Associated Press, whose reports are available to media worldwide, were present in the community, and some townspeople were willing to share their thoughts.
"You kind of hope the town can put it behind without actually forgetting about the victims," said Andrew Snow, a 49-year-old mechanic who was drinking coffee at the general store with a friend. "But it's not easy to do. I think about it every day."
Snow, who lives in Southbury, grew up in Newtown and is moving back to support the community.