At first, people thought the loud sound coming from the elementary school was a bomb.
A 2007 Toyota SUV driven by a student’s parent had slammed into the building around 9:45 a.m. Tuesday — crashing into a classroom where two dozen students were preparing to take a quiz.
Two 8-year-old boys died in the crash, including one who had been trapped under the two-ton SUV, authorities said. Neighbors helped lift the vehicle off the boy, but it was too late.
The boys were unconscious when they were taken to the hospital, authorities said, and never woke up.
Seventeen of their classmates were injured, as well as a teacher. Two 8-year-old girls remained in stable condition as the day ended in Australia, and a 9-year-old was in serious condition.
First responders rushed to the bloody scene, followed by a steady stream of parents. They were herded behind police tape as they desperately sought information about their children.
The Guardian described women clustered at the front of the school, hugging one another. Desperate, one mother tried calling the school but could not get through.
“We were just called to say come and get your kids. All we heard were calls from the neighbors, ‘come quickly,’ ” one woman told the newspaper.
New South Wales ambulance superintendent Stephanie Radnidge said the students in the school were distraught.
“They were crying, they were distressed,” she told the Australian. “Some were asking for their parents.”
One student told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that a teacher fainted as children were loaded into ambulances.
“They were all just covered with blood. It was very bad,” she said.
Police believe the crash was unintentional. The driver of the SUV, Maha al-Shennag, was charged with two counts of dangerous driving occasioning death and one count of negligent driving, officials say. She was released on bail but must appear in court again at the end of this month, according to ABC.
Investigators were scouring her charcoal-colored SUV to determine whether it had any mechanical problems in the moments before the crash. They were also inspecting her cellphone to see whether she had been distracted.
Meanwhile, people in her community were in shock and grief.
More than 100 mourners erected an impromptu memorial of flowers, stuffed animals and balloons at the gate of the public school late Tuesday.
.@GladysB says she is 'humbled' by the efforts to save students after a car slammed into a Sydney classroom. MORE: https://t.co/oLYhpNUIRq pic.twitter.com/o9f5y1irGh— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) November 7, 2017
“No one expects anything to happen like this,” Donna Agha, whose sons knew the boys who died in the crash, told ABC. “I think all of our kids need counseling, it was horrific.”
Jihad Dib, a member of Parliament, told ABC that he was “horrified and completely gutted,” much like the rest of the community.
“I saw a lot of parents hugging their kids extra tight today,” he said. “And I think it’s going to be really difficult for them having to explain to their children why a couple of their classmates are no longer here.”