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US mourns 26 dead in Connecticut school shooting

Twenty children and six adults killed after gunman opens fire at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

The US is mourning the second worst shooting in its history after 20 children and six adults were killed by a gunman at an elementary school in Connecticut. The shooter, identified by the Associated Press as Adam Lanza, 20, was found dead at the scene and the body of his mother, Nancy Lanza, was found at his family home.

State police lieutenant Paul Vance said 18 children aged between five and ten and six adults were pronounced dead at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, and two children died after being taken to hospital. The gunman was armed with two handguns, a Glock and a Sig Sauer, and a .223 calibre rifle, was later found in the back of his car.

Lanza's elder brother, Ryan, 20, was questioned by police near his New Jersey home but is not thought to have any connection to the shooting. Law enforcement officials initially wrongly identified him as the suspect.

The tragedy, the third mass shooting this year, prompted calls for tougher controls on gun ownership. Barack Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, told reporters that "today was not the day" to discuss the issue but later in an emotional statement at the White House, a tearful Obama promised "meaningful action". He said: "We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years.  And each time I learn the news I react not as a President, but as anybody else would -- as a parent.  And that was especially true today.  I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do."

With reference to other recent massacres, he added: "As a country, we have been through this too many times.  Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago -- these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children.  And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."

As a mark of respect for the dead, Obama ordered flags across the country to be flown at half-mast.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a long-standing advocate of gun control, responded to the president's statement by calling for "immediate action" to stop "this madness". Bloomberg, the co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said: "President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response."

In response to a question about the shooting, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association said: "Until the facts are thoroughly known, the NRA will not be making any comment."

The shooting was the deadliest in US history after that at Virginia Tech university, where a student killed 32 people in 2007.

George Eaton is senior online editor of the New Statesman.