Sandy Hook Elementary shooting leaves 28 dead, law enforcement sources say

President Barack Obama teared up Friday as he addressed the nation after a mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. left 27 people dead, including 18 children. (The Washington Post)

NEWTOWN, Conn.--A shooting rampage in this small Connecticut town on Friday morning left 28 people dead, including 20 children killed inside their elementary school, authorities said.

The dead included the suspected gunman, whom law enforcement sources identified as Adam Lanza, 20. Police said that Lanza first apparently killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at the home they shared in Newtown. Then he drove in her car to Sandy Hook Elementary, the school at which Nancy Lanza taught kindergarten.

In the car, authorities said, were three guns: a .223 caliber “Bushmaster” rifle and two pistols, a Sig Sauer and a Glock.

At the school, authorities said, Adam Lanza shot and killed six adults — including the school’s principal — and 20 children. They were shot in two different rooms of the school, police said.

Police were called to the school after 9:35 a.m., and officers searched the classrooms for a shooter. When they found the gunman, however, he was dead by his own hand. No officer fired a shot.

One other person was injured in the shooting, but survived.

Friday’s shooting became the second-deadliest in U.S. history, after the rampage that killed 32 students at the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va. It happened in a country that had grown darkly accustomed to public shootings: just five months before, another gunman had killed 12 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in July.

But the sheer scale of Friday’s killing — and the nature of its victims, small children shot in the sanctuary of a school — deepened its horror, and unleashed a shaking kind of grief.

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.”

Dorothy Hanson, who is the suspect’s grandmother and Nancy Lanza’s mother, said in a brief phone interview Friday that she could not fathom the violence that ended their lives.

“I just can’t cope with it right now,” Hanson said through tears. “She was my daughter, and a beautiful girl and I loved her. I just can’t make any more comments than that right now.”

Among the dead was the school’s principal, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, according to law enforcement sources. Press reports said Hochsprung had been the school’s principal since 2010, and had been a schools administrator for 12 years before that. Local news organizations reported that she was married, with two daughters and three stepdaughters.

“She was always enthusiastic, always smiling, always game to do anything,” said Kristin Larson, a former secretary of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association. In a phone interview, Larson choked up as she recalled Hochsprung hugging students at the start of the school year. “She wanted them to do well in school,” Larson said, “but she also wanted them to have fun.”

Earlier on Friday, law enforcement sources had misidentified the shooter as Adam’s brother Ryan Lanza, 24. Based on reports from those sources, The Washington Post and many other news outlets also identified Ryan Lanza as the suspected shooter.

Ryan Lanza was taken into custody near his home in Hoboken, N.J. on Friday; news reports showed him being escorted in handcuffs by police. But authorities said they do not believe he was involved in the crime. It was unclear what caused the initial confusion between the brothers.

Beth Israel, who lived for a time on the same street as the Lanzas, recalled Adam Lanza as withdrawn, but not threatening in any way.

“Overall, I would just call him a socially awkward kid, I don’t know, shy and quiet. Didn’t really look you in the eye,” Israel said in a telephone interview Friday night. “Just kind of a weird kid, maybe. I can’t tell you any specific incidents why [I thought so],” she said.

But there was still something that troubled her about Adam Lanza. When Israel heard that Ryan Lanza — Adam’s brother — had been described by law enforcement sources as the shooter, she felt they had the wrong brother: “It has to be Adam, not Ryan,” Israel wrote on Twitter.

Police described the school itself as one of the most horrific crime scenes that many had ever encountered, and officials said the first-arriving responders would be given counseling.

Children who were evacuated from the school said later that they had been told to keep their eyes closed until they were outside.

Police said that as the day went on, they had accounted for every child who attended the school, tracking down even those who were absent because of illness. All had been accounted for, they said.

Perhaps the closest echo of this rampage, in the dark history of American massacres, might be a 1989 shooting in Stockton, Calif., where a drifter with an assault 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.

The guns used in Friday’s shootings were believed to have been purchased legally, and registered to a family member of Adam Lanza’s, a law enforcement source said.

Police said they were summoned to the school by a number of 911 calls. Both state and local police converged on the school, according to Connecticut State Police Lt. L. Paul Vance, and “began a complete active shooter search of the building.”

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.

In this small town near the New York border, police cars began screaming toward the school. At Berkshire Motors, owner Jim Marcucilli thought he saw 40 police cruisers. He had been working on a car, but its owner, frantic, demanded back the keys. “Oh my God,” she said, according to Marcucilli. “I have to get my kid!”

Later, Marcucilli learned that he had a connection to the Lanza family: he had helped Nancy Lanza with dead batteries over the years, and had even bought a car from her. Such connections are common in a small place like Newtown, he said.

“You can’t get any closer to home” than an attack at the school, he said. “It’s definitely going to affect this community terribly.”

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 the 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 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.”

Also Friday, White House press spokesman 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.

Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department, after 30 years at the paper where she has been an investigative reporter and covered federal law enforcement, crime, education and social services.
David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.
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