A shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. on Friday morning killed 27 people, including 20 children, law enforcement sources said.
The dead at Sandy Hook Elementary, about 60 miles northeast of New York City, included the suspected gunman. One other person was injured. Police said that the shootings were carried out in two rooms, located in the same section of the school. They said 18 of the children had died at the scene, and two more died after being taken to hospitals.
In addition, police described a “secondary crime scene,” elsewhere in Newtown, where another adult was found dead. A Connecticut State Police spokesman, Lt. J. Paul Vance, did not give details about how the two incidents were connected.
Vance did not release the gunman’s identity. Law enforcement sources said that this was a matter of some confusion for investigators: at first, they believed the shooter had been Ryan Lanza, a man in his 20s whose mother worked at the school. Based on reports from those sources, the Washington Post and many other news outlets identified Ryan Lanza as the suspected shooter earlier Friday.
But as the afternoon went on, some sources said Lanza may not have been the shooter after all. They still believed that the killer was a relative of Lanza’s mother, a kindergarten teacher at the school. Lanza’s mother was among the first killed, and many of the young victims were her students, sources said.
President Obama, in one of his most emotional speeches as president, wiped away tears as he spoke about the shooting from the White House’s briefing room. “Our hearts are broken today,” Obama said. He promised “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this,” but did not say specifically what he might do.
“I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between five and 10 years old,” Obama paused, seemingly unable to continue for a few moments. “They had their entire lives ahead of them. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.”
The apparent death toll would make this the second-deadliest shooting in U.S. history, after the rampage that killed 32 students at the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va. The Connecticut shootings come just a few months after a gunman killed 12 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. in July.
The targets of Friday’s killing--children, shot in the sanctuary of a school-- deepens its horror. Its closest echo, in the dark history of American massacres, might be a 1989 shooting in Stockton, Calif., where a drifter with an AK-47 rifle opened fire on a schoolyard. Five children died, and 29 others were wounded before the gunman killed himself.
That episode served as a catalyst for a string of laws restricting the use and importation of assault weapons.
In Newtown, at least two weapons--rifle and a handgun--have been recovered inside the school, authorities said Friday. A second person was being questioned about the shootings, but officials said they were not certain that person was involved in the killings.
The Associated Press reported that Lanza’s brother was being held by police.
President Obama is expected to speak about the shooting at 3:15 p.m. in the White House’s briefing room.
A Connecticut State Police official, Lt. Paul Vance, did not release an exact number of dead during a press conference about 1:45 p.m. Friday. Vance said that “the shooter is deceased inside the building,” but gave no details about the gunman’s identity.
Officials said more details would be released later, after victims’ families had been informed.
An official also told the Associated Press that New Jersey State Police were searching a location in that state in connection with the shootings. That official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak on the record about the developing criminal investigation.
Police were called to the school after 9:30 a.m. Friday. Both state and local police converged on the school, Vance said, and “began a complete active shooter search of the building.” TV reports also showed an FBI SWAT team on the scene.
Meredith Artley, managing editor of CNN.com, described interviewing a woman who was at the school about 9:30 or 9:35 a.m. The woman was in a meeting with the principal, vice principal and school psychologist when they heard shots from the hall. The three school officials went into the hallway, and the vice principal came crawling back, shot in the foot, Artley said.
The witness, who was not identified but has a 7 year-old at the school, told Artley that she later passed the principal and the psychologist lying in the hallway, surrounded by pools of blood.
Students inside the school were evacuated to a nearby firehouse, where television reporters saw parents tearfully reuniting with their children.
Students recounted hearing police officers on the roof, and classmates so frightened they became sick to their stomachs.
In interview with New York’s WABC television, student Brendan Murray said he was in the gym when he heard a banging sound. Students at first thought a custodian had knocked something over, but then they heard a scream.
“Then a police came in and was like, ‘Is he in here?’ Then he ran out,” Murray said. “And then somebody yelled, ‘Get to a safe place!’ So we went to the closet in the gym.”
Eventually, he said, police escorted the students out of the school and to a nearby firehouse, where they reunited with their classmates.
“We sat in our classes,” he said. “And were all really happy that we were all alive.”
Parent Stephen Delgiadice told the AP that his 8-year-old daughter heard two big bangs and teachers told her to get in a corner. His daughter was fine.
“It’s alarming, especially in Newtown, Connecticut, which we always thought was the safest place in America,” he said.
The superintendent’s office said the district had locked down schools in Newtown. Schools in neighboring towns also were locked down as a precaution.
A dispatcher at the Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps said a teacher had been shot in the foot and taken to Danbury Hospital. Andrea Rynn, a spokeswoman at the hospital, said it had three patients from the school but she did not have information on the extent or nature of their injuries.
A photo posted by The Newtown Bee newspaper showed a group of young students — some crying, others looking visibly frightened — being escorted by adults through a parking lot in a line, hands on each other’s shoulders.
Mergim Bajraliu, 17, heard the gunshots echo from his home and raced to check on his 9-year-old sister at the school. He told the AP his sister, who was fine, heard a scream come over the intercom at one point. He said teachers were shaking and crying as they came out of the building.
“Everyone was just traumatized,” he said.
Richard Wilford’s 7-year-old son, Richie, is in the second grade at the school. His son told him that he heard a noise that “sounded like what he described as cans falling.”
The boy told him a teacher went out to check on the noise, came back in, locked the door and had the kids huddle up in the corner until police arrived.
“There’s no words,” Wilford said, according to the AP. “It’s sheer terror, a sense of imminent danger, to get to your child and be there to protect him.”
The White House said President Obama was notified of the shooting and his spokesman Jay Carney said the president had “enormous sympathy for families that are affected.”
Also Friday, Carney told reporters that it was not the time to discuss gun control legislation.
“We’re still waiting for more information about the incident in Connecticut,” Carney replied when asked if the massacre raised questions about gun policy. “As we do, I think it’s important, on a day like today, to view this as I know the president, as a father, does, and others who are parents certainly do, which is to feel enormous sympathy for families that are affected and to do everything we can to support state and local law enforcement and to support those who are enduring what appears to be a very tragic event.”
He concluded, “I’m sure [there] will be rather a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I don’t think today is that day.”
Pressed on when that discussion would happen, the spokesman said it would — but not as we were still figuring out how the tragic massacre occurred.
“I think that day will come, but today’s not that day, especially as we are awaiting more information about the situation,” he said.