[PHOTO -(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia). Pope Benedict XVI arrives at the St. Peter's Square]

VATICAN CITY, DECEMBER 17, 2012 (PHILSTAR) Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square on Sunday that he is praying for the families of the 20 children and six adults who were killed during a shooting rampage at a U.S. school.

Speaking in English, Benedict said he was "deeply saddened by Friday's senseless violence in Newtown, Connecticut."

"I assure the families of the victims, especially those who lost a child, of my closeness in prayer," the pope said in his first public comments on the massacre by a lone gunman. "May the God of consolation touch their hearts and ease their pain."

On Saturday, the Vatican said that Benedict was promptly informed about the shootings and that he sent a condolence message to the diocese involved to convey "heartfelt grief" over "the shocking event."

In that message, the pontiff prayed that God "sustain the entire community with spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love."

In his traditional Sunday appearance from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square, adorned by a tall Christmas tree, Benedict said that as the holiday approaches "let us dedicate ourselves more fervently to prayer and to acts of peace."

He then invoked "God's abundant blessings" upon those "affected by this tragedy."


Newtown school massacre victims identified BBC NEWS for US AND CANDA  December 16, 2012 Last updated at 07:30 ET

[PHOTO -Residents have been holding candle-lit vigils in Newtown]


All 20 children who died in a shooting at a school in Connecticut were aged between six and seven, according to an official list of the dead.

The state's chief medical examiner said the gunman used a rifle as his main weapon, and all the victims appeared to have been shot several times.

The gunman, named in media reports as Adam Lanza, killed his mother before driving to the school and opening fire.

Six adults, all women, were also killed before the gunman shot himself dead.

School shooting victims

Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Rachel Davino, 29
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Dawn Hochsprung, 47
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Lauren Russo, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto,27
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6

Who the victims were

[PHOTO -Emilie Parker told her father she loved him as he left for work]

[PHOTO - Floral tributes are being left outside the school]

[PHOTO -Dawn Hochsprung, 47: The head teacher of Sandy Hook Elementary viewed her school as a model, telling The Newtown Bee newspaper in 2010: "I don't think you could find a more positive place to bring students to every day." In October she shared a picture of the school's evacuation drill with the message "Safety first." Officials said she died while lunging at the gunman in an attempt to overtake him. Dawn Hochsprung was married and was the mother of two daughters and three step-daughters. She became head teacher at Sandy Hook in 2010. Friends talk of her infectious laughter.]


[PHOTO -Victoria Soto, 27: Investigators told relatives that she was killed while shielding her pupils. She hid some in a bathroom or closet, ensuring they were safe, and then told the gunman that her class was in the gym. Her cousin Jim Wiltsie told ABC News: "She was trying to shield, get her children into a closet and protect them from harm. And by doing that, put herself between the gunman and the children." He added: "She lost her life doing what she loved." Victoria Soto grew up in Stratford, Connecticut and graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University. Her father worked for the state transportation department and her mother is a nurse. She was studying for a master's degree in special education.]


[PHOTO - Mary Sherlach, 56: Janet Robinson, superintendent of Newtown Public Schools, said that when shots rang out, school psychologist Mary Sherlach ran toward the shooter along with Ms Hochsprung. Mary Sherlach Those who knew her called her a wonderful neighbour and a dedicated educator. Her husband, William, told US media: "She considered what she was doing as God's work that's all you need to know about her". Her son-in-law, Eric Schwartz, told the South Jersey Times that she relished helping children overcome their problems. She had planned to leave work early on Friday, he said. He told reporters the loss was devastating but that Sherlach was doing what she loved. Mary Sherlach was the mother of two daughters, Maura, 28, and Katy, 25.]

Lauren Russo, 30: Lauren Russo's mother, Teresa Russo, said Lauren had spent years working as a substitute teacher and was thrilled when she finally become a full-time teacher at Sandy Hook. "It was the best year of her life," she told the Danbury News-Times, where she is a copy editor. Lauren Russo had planned to see the film The Hobbit with her boyfriend on Friday and had baked cakes for a party they were to attend afterward. She was a graduate of the University of Connecticut and the University of Bridgeport.]

Anne Marie Murphy, 52: Her father, Hugh McGowan, told US media that emergency officials had called Anne Marie Murphy a hero for her attempts to protect her charges. The special education teacher, who had four children of her own, placed herself in front of her class. Her body was found covering children. Anne Marie Murphy was born in New York State and was described by her mother as a "happy soul". "She was a very good daughter, a good mother, a good wife. We loved being together."]

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6: Media reports have identified Ana as the daughter of jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who had just started a new job at Western Connecticut State University. The child's grandmother, Elba Marquez, said the family had moved to Connecticut from Canada, drawn in part by Sandy Hook's glowing reputation. "It was a beautiful place, just beautiful. What happened does not match up with the place where they live," she said. Ms Marquez said Ana's nine-year-old brother was also at the school, but escaped safely. Jimmy Greene named a composition after Ana, 'Ana Grace' on his 2009 album, 'Mission Statement'. ]

Dylan Hockley, 6: In an interview conducted with local newspaper the Newton Bee before the shootings, Dylan Hockley's mother Nicole said that the family had moved to the US from England two years ago. Father Ian Hockley previously worked in Southampton. The Hockleys are reported to have lived in Yogananda Street and were neighbours of the Adam and Nancy Lanza.]

Grace McDonnell, 7: Her parents, Chris and Lynn sent a statement to the Washington Post newspaper, saying: "We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from so many people. Our daughter Grace was the love and light of our family. Words cannot adequately express our sense of loss."]

Noah Pozner, 6: He attended Sandy Hook school with his twin sister, Arielle, and an older sister, Sophia, 8. Arielle was in a different class and survived the attack, as did Sophia. Noah had celebrated Hanukkah the Saturday before the shooting with his uncle, Arthur, in Brooklyn. His uncle described him as very inquisitive and intelligent: "For a 6-year-old, he was a very smart kid." ]

Olivia Engel, 6: Reverend Robert Weiss told the Reuters news agency that Olivia had been cast to play an angel in a Nativity play in St Rose of Lima church on Saturday. ]

Catherine Hubbard, 6: In a statement released to the media, her parents Matthew and Jennifer Hubbard said: "We are greatly saddened by the loss of our beautiful daughter, Catherine Violet, and our thoughts and prayers are with the other families who have been affected by this tragedy. We ask that you continue to pray for us and the other families who have experienced loss in this tragedy."]

Most of the 26 people killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School were children aged just six or seven. The six adults who died included the head teacher, Dawn Hochsprung

The head teacher at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Dawn Hochsprung, is listed among the dead, along with adults Rachel DaVino, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Russo, Mary Sherlach and Victoria Soto.

Eight boys and 12 girls were killed - all but four of them were aged six.

The youngest, Noah Pozner, celebrated his birthday only last month.

A woman who worked at the school was the only person to be shot and survive.

Scores of people have left tributes at a memorial outside the school, and on Saturday evening hundreds attended a candlelight vigil

President Barack Obama is to visit Newtown on Sunday to meet families and speak at an interfaith vigil at the town's high school.

After the attack, he urged "meaningful action" against gun crime in the US.

"As a country we have been through this too many times," he said in an emotional White House address.

Hidden in cupboards

Lt Paul Vance of Connecticut state police said on Saturday that the gunman had forced his way into the school, contradicting earlier reports that he had been let in voluntarily.

Lt Vance said investigators had gathered "good evidence" in the search for a motive, without elaborating.

The gunman killed his mother at their home before driving to the school in her car and opening fire. Reports say the guns used in the attacks were registered to her.

There are conflicting reports about whether she had worked at the school in the past.

Emilie Parker told her father she loved him as he left for work, he says The killings took place in two rooms within a single section of the school, police have said. The shooting lasted just a few minutes.

As they heard the shots, teachers in other parts of the building tried to protect children by locking doors and ushering them into closets.

Library clerk Maryann Jacob described telling 18 children to crawl into a storage room, before barricading the door with a filing cabinet.

Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner H Wayne Carver said the gunman shot all the victims at the school with a semiautomatic rifle, at least some of them from close range.

Asked how many shots were fired, he replied: "I'm lucky if I can tell you how many I found."

The suspected gunman's father, Peter Lanza, said his family was "struggling to make sense of what has transpired".

"Our family is grieving along with all those who have been affected by this enormous tragedy," he said in a statement.

Dr Jeannie Pasacreta, a nurse practitioner and psychologist who has been advising parents on how to talk to their children, says neighbours have been cancelling Christmas parties and taking down decorations.

Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute to the victims and their families in his weekly address at the Vatican, saying he was "deeply saddened by Friday's senseless violence".

[PHOTO -Teacher Kaitlin Roig: 'I told them (the children) we had to be absolutely quiet... until the good guys come']

In a separate development, it emerged that hours before the Newtown attack, police in Oklahoma had arrested a teenager for allegedly plotting to shoot and bomb students at his school in Bartlesville.

Sammie Eaglebear Chavez, 18, is said to have tried to convince other students to help him carry out an attack. He has been jailed with a $1m (620,000) bond and is due to appear in court on 11 January.

The attack at Newtown is the second deadliest shooting attack at a US school or university, after the Virginia Tech killings of 2007, which left 32 people dead and many injured

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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