NEWTOWN, Connecticut (AP)
A gunman killed 26 people, including 20 young children, at a U.S. school where his mother worked Friday morning in one of the worst school shootings in the country’s history. Frightened students who were rushed from the building by police were told to close their eyes.
“Our hearts are broken today,” President Barack Obama said, wiping his eyes during brief comments to reporters in one of the most emotional public moments of his presidency. He said the children killed were 5 to 10 years old. He said the nation had been “through this too many times” with recent mass shootings and has to come together to take meaningful action, “regardless of the politics.” He did not give details, even as the debate over the issue of gun control in America exploded once again.
A law enforcement official said the suspect, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and he was the son of a teacher at the school. A second law enforcement official said the mother, Nancy Lanza, was presumed dead.
The first official said Adam Lanza’s older brother, 24-year-old Ryan, was being questioned by police. An earlier report from a law enforcement official mistakenly transposed the brothers’ first names. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record about the developing criminal investigation.
The attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School, just two weeks before Christmas, was the latest of several mass shootings in the U.S. this year, and it approached the deadly scope of the Virginia Tech university massacre in 2007 that left 32 dead.
This time, many victims were young children. Photos from the scene showed students, some of them crying, being escorted by adults through a parking lot in a line, hands on each other’s shoulders. Children told their parents they had heard bangs and, at one point, a scream over the intercom.
State police said 18 children were found dead at the school and two later were declared dead, and six adults were found dead at the scene. They said the shootings occurred in one section of the school but did not give details.
Police said another person was found dead at a second scene, leading to a total death toll of 28. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said someone who lived with the gunman died.
According to the second law enforcement official, the suspect drove to the scene in his mother’s car. Three guns were found — a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both pistols — and a .223-caliber rifle.
The official also said Lanza’s girlfriend and another friend are missing in New Jersey.
Robert Licata said his 6-year-old son was in class when the gunman burst in and shot the teacher.
“That’s when my son grabbed a bunch of his friends and ran out the door,” he said. “He was very brave. He waited for his friends.”
Licata said the shooter didn’t say a word.
The shooting shocked a small, tranquil community in one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S., about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of New York City. The last news items posted before the shooting on the website of the tiny newspaper, The Newtown Bee, lamented cracked headstones at a local cemetery and asked residents to “share 2012 memories.”
Anguished parents came running Friday morning when they heard the news.
Stephen Delgiadice said 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.
Mergim Bajraliu, 17, heard the gunshots echo from his home and raced to check on his 9-year-old sister at the school. He said 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 said his 7-year-old son, Richie, said 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. “It’s sheer terror, a sense of imminent danger, to get to your child and be there to protect him.”
Melissa Makris said her 10-year-old son, Philip, saw what looked like a body under a blanket as he fled the school.
“We have endured too many of these tragedies,” Obama said. He spoke in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, named in honor of the former White House press secretary who was shot and disabled in the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981. Brady and his wife, Sarah, have become activists for gun control measures.
Already this year, a gunman killed 12 people at a Colorado theater, and another gunman killed six people before killing himself at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
“If now is not the time to have a serious discussion about gun control and the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our society, I don’t know when is,” one member of Congress, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, said in a statement.
Overseas, there was both shock and sympathy. In a public statement addressed to Obama, French President Francois Hollande said he was “horrified.”
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