28 Dead, Including 20 Children, After School Shooting - Heroes Emerge
A gunman forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday morning by blasting as many as a half-dozen shots through the front door, then killed 20 children and six adults, including the school's principal, in the worst shooting at a primary school in U.S. history.
The shooter also killed himself inside the school, authorities said, and his mother was later found dead at her home 2 miles away.
The shootings took place in two first-grade classrooms around 9:30 a.m., sources said, and one witness said she believed as many as 100 rounds had been fired. All of the adults and 18 of the children were pronounced dead at the school. Two more students died at a hospital. A single victim was injured but not killed.
State police sources identified the shooter as Adam Lanza, 20. When Lanza was found — dead in a hallway of a self-inflicted gunshot wound — he was carrying his brother Ryan Lanza's identification, which initially led to confusion about his identity, police said.
Adam Lanza was dressed in black fatigues and brought two weapons into the school, police sources said: a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both pistols. A .223-caliber rifle was found in his car in the school parking lot, sources said.
Victoria Soto, a first-grade teacher, died after hiding her students, a source told The Courant.
Soto was a teacher in room 10, the classroom next to where the shooting began, the source said. She hid her students — 15 or 16 of them, some possibly in a bathroom — before Lanza entered the room.
He wanted to shoot more people, the source said. But seeing no one but Soto, he shot her, then left the room.
Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, was also killed.
Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was emerging from a meeting and apparently saw the gunman and warned several colleagues who were about to step into the hallway behind her, and into the shooter's direct line of fire. The last thing one witness recalled was her turning back and yelling a warning to lock the door as she apparently confronted the gunman. A few moments later she was shot.
"She died protecting the children that she adored so much. It's just incredibly shocking,'' said Gerald Stomski, first selectman in Woodbury, where Hochsprung lived. Hochsprung had been the principal in the Bethlehem and Woodbury school district before taking the job in Newtown two years ago.
State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance said the victims have been positively identified and their families have been notified. He said their names will be released once the medical examiner's office completes some work.
A school psychologist and at least one teacher are believed to be among the victims. Sandy Hook has more than 600 students from kindergarten through fourth grade.
Vance said detectives are still working in the school and could spend another day or longer examining every "crack and crevice of that facility."
As news of the massacre spread through the typically quiet Fairfield County town, panicked parents clogged roads as they streamed to the school in search of their young sons and daughters. Police evacuated the children to a nearby firehouse, and tearful parents were led into the building. Most came out relieved, clutching and caressing their children. A few came out empty-handed and grief-stricken.
Later in the day, authorities set up a makeshift morgue in the school and took photographs of the young victims to show to parents to make a positive identification.
'People Were Crying'
Vanessa Bajraliu, a 9-year-old fourth grader, heard the shots.
"I saw policemen — lots of policemen in the hallway with guns," she said. "The police took us out of the school. We were told to hold each others' hands and to close our eyes. We opened our eyes when we were outside."
Her brother, Mergim Bajraliu, 17, a senior at Newtown High School, was at his nearby home when he heard shots, he said. He went to a neighbor's house.
"Then we heard sirens," he said.
He rushed to the school on foot and saw a girl being carried out, he said. She looked badly injured. Another girl had blood on her face, he said.
Bajraliu soon found his sister and took her away from the scene.
Parent Richard Wilford said his Sandy Hook second-grader, Richie, heard what he described as "pans falling" when gunshots rang out. He said that his son told him that his teacher went to check on the noise, then returned to the classroom, locked the door and told the students to stand in the corner.
"What does a parent think about coming to a school where there's a shooting … It's the most terrifying moment of a parent's life … you have no idea," said Wilford.
Alexis Wasik, 8, a third-grader at the school, said police checked everybody inside the school before they were escorted to the firehouse.
"We had to walk with a partner," she said.
One child leaving the school said there was shattered glass everywhere. A police officer ran into the classroom and told them to run outside and keep going until they reached the firehouse.
Audra Barth, who was walking away from the school with her first-grade son and third-grade daughter, said a teacher took first-graders into the restroom after bullets came through the window.
Brendan Murray, a 9-year-old fourth grader, said he was in the gym with his class when he heard "lots of banging." He said the teachers put the students in a nearby closet where they stayed for about 15 minutes before police officers told them to leave the building.
The boy said the students ran down a hallway where there were police at every door. "Lots of people were crying," he said.
But as reporters converged on the school, the children generally seemed more composed than their parents.
The first police on the scene instantly recognized the gravity of the crime and "asked for every resource we could get," Newtown Police Lt. George Sinko said. On- and off-duty state troopers raced to Newtown, including tactical units, K9 units and the bomb squad. The state police helicopter was put in the air, and before long agents with the FBI and ATF were headed to Newtown as well. No officer fired a weapon at the school, police said.
Vance said the first goal was evacuating the school and bringing the children to a staging area to reunite them with their families. Students described being ushered from their classrooms hand-in-hand, with their eyes closed. Room-by-room, police extracted the students, scurrying them through hallways and outside toward the firehouse.
As the school was cleared, heavily armed police swept the building at least four times looking for victims, evidence and the possibility of additional shooters. Lanza is believed to have acted alone, and the killings were limited to two rooms in one section of the school.
With a tentative identification, police also descended on the nearby home of Nancy J. Lanza, Adam's mother. Inside, sources said, they found Nancy Lanza's body. Police in New Jersey also went to the home of Ryan Lanza — Adam's brother and the man authorities originally thought was the shooter. Ryan Lanza was questioned, but there are no indications he is suspected in the case.
All Newtown schools — and schools in several surrounding towns— were locked down Friday morning. Many local businesses closed. Outside one store was a handwritten sign: "Say A Prayer."
"This is most definitely the worst thing experienced here in town," Sinko said. "But for now, we're concerned about the families of the victims."
But there are concerns for the police as well. Vance said state police are providing crisis counseling for the first responders at the school — those who rushed into the classrooms to an incomprehensible sight.
"This was a very tragic, horrific scene that they encountered," he said.
"Kind Of Strange"
Adam Lanza was a 2010 graduate of Newtown High School. Andrew Lapple, who sat next to Lanza in homeroom, described him as a skinny, reserved kid "who never really talked at all."
Lapple said he played Little League baseball with Lanza and remembers he wasn't very good. Instead, Lanza was more of a "tech-geek," he said.
"He was always carrying around his laptop holding onto it real tight,'' Lapple said. "He walked down the halls against the wall almost like he was afraid of people. He was definitely kind of strange but you'd never think he'd do something like this."
One former classmate of Adam Lanza remembered him as quiet.
Kateleen Soy, now an undergraduate at Hofstra University in New York, said she was in Lanza's seventh-grade class at St. Rose of Lima School in Newtown.
She recalled that he joined the class after the school year began and left before school got out for the summer.
"He was really shy, really painfully shy," Soy said."He was a little hard to talk to."
After he left St. Rose, she didn't recall seeing him again until she spotted him in a hall while they were students at Newtown High School.
"I wanted people to know he wasn't always a monster," Soy said. "He became one, but he wasn't always that way."
Police have given no indication of what Lanza's motive may have been and it is not clear what his connection was to the elementary school. There have been reports that Nancy Lanza worked at the school.
But ABC News and the Today Show report that Janet Robinson, superintendent of Newtown Schools, said there is no record that Adam Lanza or his mother Lanza worked at the school.
Marsha Moskowitz, a former bus driver in town, remembered the Lanza boys.
"You know the trouble kids, and you figure, 'Pfft, that one's going to be trouble.' But I never would have thought that about them," she said.
Moskowitz ran into the boys' mother a couple of weeks ago and exchanged pleasantries, she said.
Adam Lanza's grandmother, Dorothy Hanson, 78, told The Associated Press she was too distraught to speak when reached by phone at her home in Brooksville, Fla.
"I just don't know, and I can't make a comment right now," Hanson said in a shaky voice as she started to cry. She declined to comment further and hung up.
Friends and neighbors said Nancy Lanza, 52, was a kind woman with a sense of humor. Slender, with short hair, Lanza was a fixture at neighborhood events such as the Labor Day parade, and had a special interest in Christmas lights.
Lanza lived on Yogananda Street, in a hilly, affluent neighborhood in the east end of town. Neighbors call it a children- and family-friendly place, a description backed up by the kids riding their bikes and the folks walking their dogs despite the crush of television trucks and reporters waiting near the Lanza home.
Lanza's friend and neighbor Rhonda Cullens fought back tears Friday afternoon in the doorway of her home on Founders Lane, just around the corner from the Lanza residence.
She said she met Nancy Lanza playing bunco, a popular dice game, with a group of women in the neighborhood, but she hadn't seen her for years since she stopped playing with the group. "She was just a sweet, caring person," Cullens said.
"Evil Visited … Today"
Friends and relatives of school personnel spent anxious hours waiting to hear the fate of their loved ones.
When Janet Vollmer, a Sandy Hook kindergarten teacher, returned to her Liberty Street home about 4 p.m. Friday, her grown son and a nearby neighbor were there to greet her. The neighbor ran over and hugged Vollmer.
"I kept hearing it might have been a kindergarten teacher," the neighbor said. "I was hoping it wasn't her. I was shaking at work."
Students at nearby Newtown High School on Berkshire Road were stunned when they learned of the shootings.
Senior Alex Buttery went to Sandy Hook Elementary. "I know the teachers. I'm just wondering who it is," she said.
Newtown United Methodist Church opened its doors about noon after ministers heard of the tragedy. Brad Tefft, a bereavement minister at the church, said Newtown is a close-knit community.
"The closeness became more apparent when you see a tragedy like this," he said. "We all feel for the families, and the kids and the teachers. It's part of who we are. It's part of the fabric of what this community is like. When something like this happens it tears at all our heartstrings."
Roy Occhiogrosso, senior aide to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, was in room when Malloy met with parents Friday afternoon.
There were about two dozen people in the room at the firehouse when Malloy spoke to them. Some still didn't know the fate of their children. Occhiogrosso said it was a scene of excruciating pain and grief.
"What can you say at a moment like that? He was trying make sure they got confirmation that their children were dead. Most of the people already knew what had happened. Some were holding out hope. Others thought their children had been transported to the hospital."
The toll of Friday's shooting brought memories and comparisons to other tragedies, including the shootings in Columbine and Aurora in Colorado, the Petit family killings in Cheshire, and the 9/11 attacks.
Friday's massacre may be the largest school shooting of young children in the world, said Larry Barton, a professor at The American College in Pennsylvania whose three decades of research includes studying violence in workplaces, public spaces and schools.
Mass school shootings have often targeted high school or college students, he said.
"This is among the most diabolical crimes, to kill kindergarten-age children," Barton said. "It's very rare."
Malloy put it another way.
"Evil visited this community today," he said.
Associated Press reports are included. Staff writers David Owens, Dave Altimari, Josh Kovner, Mara Lee, Marc O'Connell, Chris Keating, Samaia Hernandez, Denise Buffa, Steve Goode, Brian Dowling, Hilda Munoz, Jenny Wilson, Vanessa de la Torre, Jenna Carlesso, Kenneth R. Gosselin, Bernie Davidow, Naedine Hazell, Sandy Csizmar and Stephen Busemeyer contributed to this story.