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Former Representative Giffords visits town of school shooting

Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Congressman Ron Barber (not pictured) leave the Pima County Recorder's office after casting thei
Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Congressman Ron Barber (not pictured) leave the Pima County Recorder's office after casting thei

By Edith Honan

NEWTOWN, Connecticut (Reuters) - Former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a mass shooting in her Arizona district two years ago, visited Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday to meet with families of the victims of last month's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

Giffords arrived at Newtown's town hall and met with First Selectman Pat Llodra, the town's top elected official, and School Superintendent Janet Robinson, who hugged her.

"How horrible," Giffords said as she embraced the superintendent, according to the Danbury News-Times.

Then Giffords and a small entourage, including U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Connecticut Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman, drove off.

Giffords, wearing a dark coat over a plaid top and dark pants and walking with a slight limp, climbed into her black SUV aided by her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, without responding to reporters' questions.

Giffords planned to attend a private event at a local home, an official had said.

Giffords' visit is three weeks to the day since 20-year-old Adam Lanza burst into the school in Newtown, about 70 miles northeast of New York City, and killed 20 first graders and six school staff members, an attack that plunged this rural New England town and the nation into grief.

President Barack Obama, who came to Newtown two days after the shooting to console the families of victims, has called December 14 the worst day of his presidency.

Giffords retired from Congress last year to focus on her recovery from the January 2011 shooting in Tucson that left six dead and 12 others wounded. Her assailant, Jared Loughner, was sentenced in November to life in prison.

Giffords, shot in the head in the attack, has become a symbol for proponents of stricter gun control in the national debate about the right to bear arms, which has grown louder since the attack in Newtown.

Kelly, her husband, tweeted after the attack: "When will we address this problem as a nation? The time is now."

Obama has responded as well, tasking Vice President Joe Biden with assembling a package of gun-control measures that the White House wants to submit to Congress in the coming weeks.

The administration's measures will meet staunch opposition from the nation's most powerful gun rights lobby, the National Rifle Association. The NRA has so far rejected calls for more stringent gun-ownership laws and instead called for armed guards in all U.S. public schools.

On Thursday, the more than 400 children who escaped from Sandy Hook without physical harm returned to school for the first time since the assault. Police were on hand to provide security at the students' new school in the neighboring town of Monroe.

The NRA's call has found some following, however. At least two New Jersey school districts this week put police guards at the entrance to public schools in the wake of the Connecticut massacre.

Police have provided no new evidence in their investigation in recent days, and the motive for Lanza's attack remains a mystery. Connecticut State Police spokesman Lt. Paul Vance has said it will be months before investigators are in a position to issue a report on the attack.

Before the attack, Lanza killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, in their home about 5 miles from the school. Lanza, who has been described by family friends as having Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, took his own life as police arrived at the Sandy Hook school.

(Writing by Dan Burns; editing by Claudia Parsons and Kenneth Barry)

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