* Biden to lead effort to reduce gun violence
* Teacher who saved half her class buried as a heroine
By Edward Krudy and Peter Rudegeair
NEWTOWN, Conn., Dec 19 President Barack Obama
assigned Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday to find ways to
curtail gun violence in America and try to avoid tragedies like
the elementary school massacre in Connecticut, where the town
buried one of its heroes on Wednesday.
With Newtown still in mourning from last Friday's shooting,
when a 20-year-old gunman shot dead 26 people at Sandy Hook
Elementary School and then himself, Biden took the assignment to
produce recommendations and report back to Obama in time for the
president's State of the Union address in late January.
Obama's initiative addressed national outrage over the
shootings in Connecticut, which have prompted longtime
gun-rights supporters to reconsider their positions and a major
private equity firm to put its gun-making business up for sale.
Funerals or wakes were held for four of Newtown's children
on Wednesday, as well as the school principal. Teacher Victoria
Soto, who is credited with saving half her class of 6- and
7-year-olds by diverting the shooter and hiding the children in
a closet, was also laid to rest.
"Vicki achieved in her 27 years what many of us will never
achieve if we live to be a hundred," the Reverend Meg Boxwell
Williams told the funeral service. "Her last act was absolutely
selfless, Christ-like, laying down her life for her children."
Gunman Adam Lanza, 20, shot his mother at home and then
killed 20 children and six adults at the school before shooting
himself in the head, officials said.
Soto hid her students in a closet when she heard the
shooting start early Friday morning, and when Lanza entered
Soto's classroom she tried to throw him off by telling him the
students were at the other end of the school in an auditorium,
the Hartford Courant reported, citing unnamed law-enforcement
Lanza shot six of the children when they tried to run, and
police later found the remaining seven students still hiding in
the closet, the Courant said. Those children told law
enforcement officials what had happened, the Courant reported.
The account provided Newtown with a positive story to cling
to following the horrible events that left the nation stunned.
Soto's death "mixed with the glad knowledge that her
sacrifice saved so many children," Williams said.
MOURNERS LINE THE STREETS
Some 30 police motorcycles from surrounding towns led the
hearse carrying Soto's body to the service in Stratford,
Connecticut. About 200 mourners lined the streets outside the
church, including a mother and daughter from Maryland who never
met Soto but made the long drive because they were touched by
her bravery in trying to protect the children in her class.
The family of the school's slain principal, Dawn Hochsprung,
invited mourners to visit a local funeral home on Wednesday. Her
burial was due to be private at an undisclosed time.
Hundreds braved a bitter wind to pay their respects to the
fallen principal, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
After the service for Daniel Barden, 7, a bagpiper played
"America the Beautiful," as hundreds of police officers and
firefighters, some from New York City and distant towns, stood
in formation outside.
The little boy loved his family, riding waves at the beach,
playing drums, foosball, reading and making s'mores around a
bonfire at his grandfather's house, said an obituary in the
Newtown Bee newspaper.
Funerals were also held for for Charlotte Bacon and Caroline
Previdi, both 6, and a wake for Chase Kowalski, 7.
The massacre prompted some Republican lawmakers to open the
door to a national debate about gun control.
That may give an opening to Obama, who said he hoped the
National Rifle Association gun lobby would reflect on the
tragedy as it awaits Biden's recommendations.
"The vast majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners
would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep
an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war,"
Connecticut's U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and
Senator-elect Chris Murphy met on Wednesday evening with a group
of about 40 Newtown residents who are pushing for strengthened
gun control and calling themselves Newtown United.
Blumenthal said, as he asks people in town if there is
anything he can do, they tell him: "Yes. Do something about