NEW YORK (Reuters) - One of the 6-year-olds was so sweet his teacher said he should have come to school wrapped in a bow.
Another loved princess tea parties, Justin Bieber and trips to New York. Still another, who rode horses, was hoping for a cowgirl hat and boots for Christmas.
One year later, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, still evokes raw emotion and sadness. On Saturday, a day after another school shooting, this time at a Colorado high school where one student was wounded, the United States paused to remember the tragedy and revisit the contentious issue of guns in America.
On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, shot his way into the school he had once attended and murdered 20 first-graders, all aged 6 and 7, and six adults. Before heading to the school, Lanza killed his mother, who had legally purchased the guns he used that day.
Newtown officials said the town wanted to be left alone on the anniversary. Some of the victims' families have encouraged those moved by the shooting to mark the day by performing an act of kindness in their own communities.
At the White House, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama observed a moment of silence after lighting 26 candles to honour those lost at the school.
In Newtown, at the Washington National Cathedral in the nation's capital and elsewhere around the country, bells tolled in remembrance of those who died.
Some of the bells were rung by advocates of stricter gun control who see Newtown as a rallying call for action and refuse to let up despite setbacks. The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns says there have been 28 school shootings since Newtown.
A fierce snow storm blew through Newtown, where a flag was flown at half-mast on Main Street. There was also a heavy police presence, including near the site of the recently demolished school.
Wreaths of fresh flowers were placed near the spot where a large sign once stood announcing the Sandy Hook school. The area has been a popular location for people to leave flowers, stuffed animals and other tokens of remembrance.
On a frozen pond near the town centre, a group of young skaters, some wearing "We are Newtown" sweatshirts, played a game of hockey. After a goal, one player threw down his hockey stick and shouted: "O.K. guys, that's for Sandy Hook." Then the game continued.
'NO GUIDEBOOK' FOR RECOVERY
On that deadly Friday last year, teachers were in the midst of their morning meetings or starting the day's first lesson when gunfire was heard in the hallways and over the intercom system.
Eleven minutes after blasting his way in, Lanza ended his rampage with suicide. The aftershocks live on.
"There's no guidebook for this, not at all," said Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, a first-grade teacher who survived the attack by hiding with her students in a tiny bathroom adjacent to a room where other children and adults lost their lives.
For months after the shooting, Roig-DeBellis said she struggled to understand why it had happened and why she was still alive.
"For me, I have moved forward. But I will never move on," she said. Roig-DeBellis, and many of the families who lost loved ones on that day, plan to be out of town for the anniversary.
In Newtown, about 70 miles (112 km) northeast of New York City, officials vowed to enforce a sense of normalcy as this Connecticut town of about 28,000 began a day of quiet, if still anguished, reflection.
"The community needs time to be alone and to reflect on our past year in personal ways, without a camera or a microphone," First Selectman Pat Llodra told a news conference this week.
The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has announced 50 events, including a "communal bell-ringing," as a symbol of their resolve not to let up in advocating for change they believe will prevent gun violence in America.
About 120 protesters calling for new gun control legislation braved freezing rain to attended a rally outside the Virginia headquarters of the National Rifle Association.
"We're not going away," said Joanna Simon, a founding member of the Reston-Herndon Alliance to End Gun Violence, organizers of the protest."We're coming back every month until we pass some meaningful legislation and get it funded."
A representative from the NRA, which opposes new gun control measures as unfair and onerous for responsible gun owners, did not respond to a request for comment. The NRA has called for better school security and the presence of armed guards.
After the Newtown tragedy, Connecticut passed several new gun control and mental health measures, but a similar effort pushed by President Barack Obama failed in the U.S. Senate.