NEWTOWN, Conn. (CNS) — As law enforcement officers tried to piece together the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and seven adults dead, priests from nearby parishes rushed to the scene to comfort families and staff.
According to early reports, a man with multiple guns entered the K-4 school soon after 9:30 a.m. and began shooting. Children, administrators and teachers were said to be among the dead. The suspected gunman also was reported dead inside the school.
The award-winning school has more than 600 students, according to the website of an organization called Great Schools.
Brian Wallace, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, told Catholic News Service that Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of nearby St. Rose of Lima Parish, was at the school almost immediately.
“It’s likely there are members of the parish affected,” he said.
When the enormity of the tragedy became apparent, Wallace said, all the priests in the greater Danbury area began reaching out, “at the most intimate and painful level,” to meet with families. “They’re on the ground and in the hospital,” he added.
Wallace said counselors from Catholic Charities — some of whom provided assistance after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in nearby New York — would be helping with trauma counseling in the community.
In a brief statement from the White House, President Barack Obama called on the nation to come together to take meaningful action and, “in the words of Scripture, heal the broken hearted and bind up their wounds.” The president said most of the child victims were between ages 5 and 10.
Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance said 18 children were found dead — all in one section at the school — and two more were declared dead at area hospitals. Six adults, in addition to the suspected shooter, were found dead at the school. He also said there was an additional crime scene in Newtown being investigated.
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The Diocese of Bridgeport posted the following statement from the Vatican:
“The Holy Father was promptly informed of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and he has asked me to convey his heartfelt grief and the assurance of this closeness in prayer to the victims and their families, and to all affected by the shocking event. In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy he asks God, our Father, to console allthose who mourn and to sustain the entire community with the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love.”
Cardinal Tarcisio Berton,
Secretary of State
New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan issued the following statement through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website:
Violence shatters peace of all
Prays that peace that passes understanding is with them
All called to work for peace in homes, streets, world
WASHINGTON — Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered prayers and sympathy for the victims of the shooting in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Dec. 14.
His statement follows.
The shooting tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut wrenches the hearts of all people. The tragedy of innocent people dying through violence shatters the peace of all.
At this time, we pledge especially our prayerful support to the Diocese of Bridgeport and the community of Newtown as they cope with this almost unbearable sorrow. We pray that the peace that passes understanding be with them as they deal with the injuries they have sustained and with the deaths of their beautiful children.
Once again we speak against the culture of violence infecting our country even as we prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace at Christmas. All of us are called to work for peace in our homes, our streets and our world, now more than ever.
In the shadow of this shooting, may we know that God’s sacrificial love sustains us and may those pained so deeply by this tragedy experience that care in their own hearts.