The rabbi of the Jewish community in Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 people were killed Friday in the worst school shooting in US history, told his congregants that the “culture of violence” would have to change, hours after consoling the Jewish mother of the youngest victim of the massacre. His funeral was scheduled for Monday.
First grader Noah Pozner was identified as the youngest of the victims killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre in the small Western Connecticut town.
In all, 20 first graders and six teachers and administrators were killed when gunman Adam Lanza rampaged through the school Friday morning. The medical examiner told reporters that the kids had all been shot multiple times with a high-powered rifle.
The tragedy has plunged Newtown into mourning and added the picturesque New England community of handsome Colonial homes, red-brick sidewalks and 27,000 people to the grim map of towns where mass shootings in recent years have periodically reignited the national debate over gun control but led to little change.
Pozner had just turned 6 years old November 20. His twin sister is also a student at Sandy Hook but survived the shooting. She was in a different classroom at the time of the shooting, according to Rabbi Shaul Praver of Temple Adath Israel in Newtown.
Praver held a community prayer session on Saturday at Adath Israel, and told Israel’s Army Radio Sunday that he castigated the culture that had led to the massacre.
“We live in a culture of violence,” Praver said he told his congregants. “All of our culture is based on violence and we need to teach the kids about the ways of peace. We need to change everything.”
“There’s too much war, too much violence in our streets,” he added, speaking in Hebrew.
Earlier, Praver told NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon that he spent Friday — which he termed “the day from Hell” — consoling Pozner’s mother, who is a member of the synagogue.
“I told the mother that was grieving that I personally believe in the eternity of the soul, and I believe that she will see her son again,” Praver said. “Other than that theological comment, the rest of it was getting her to think about taking a breath and not trying to plan the rest of her life out right now, because she says, ‘What am I going to do without my baby?’”
Pravr also spoke about a second victim, six-year-old Benjamin Wheeler, who he called “a very spirited boy.” He and his parents, David and Francine Wheeler, were not members of the synagogue, but they attended its Hanukkah celebration.
“There’s always some brave individual who goes up to the dance floor to get everybody involved. That was Ben Wheeler,” he said. “Just delightful people.”
Praver was among the clergy, social workers and psychologists who arrived at a firehouse near the school where many of the victims and their families congregated after the shooting.
In response to the question of why such tragedies happen, Praver replied: “I don’t know the answer to that. I never try to present a theological answer to that. I think what’s more important is to have compassion, humanity and hold someone’s hand and hug them and cry with them.”
He said details about the killer, who reportedly suffered from a mild form of autism, have been scarce.
“He was crazy,” Praver told Army Radio. “It seems something was off in his head.”
Praver, who ended his NPR interview with a plea for listeners to pray for the families affected, also said that another friend of the congregation was killed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report