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Twenty children among 27 dead in school shooting in Connecticut

Published: Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 8:18 p.m. CST

(Continued from Page 5)

(MCT) NEWTOWN, Conn. — Twenty-seven people, including 20 children, are dead after a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The gunman killed himself inside the school.

Another person was found dead at another address in Newtown, sources told The Hartford Courant.

The shootings at the school took place in two rooms, one of which is a kindergarten classroom, sources said. One entire classroom is unaccounted for.

The shooter is dead inside the school, and the situation is secure, said State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance.

Students described being ushered from their classrooms hand-in-hand, with their eyes closed, to the safety of a nearby fire station as police converged on the school.

There were conflicting reports about the identity of the shooter. The state police have not identified him.

Several news outlets, including The Associated Press and CNN, initially identified the shooter as Ryan Lanza and said his younger brother was being held for questioning as a possible second shooter.

The Associated Press is now reporting that the suspect is Adam Lanza, the younger brother, and that the older brother is being questioned.

CNN is no longer identifying the shooter.

A law enforcement official said the men’s mother, Nancy Lanza, works at the school as a teacher. The Associated Press is reporting that she is presumed dead.

The official also said Ryan Lanza’s girlfriend and another friend are missing in New Jersey.

Another official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still under way, said the gunman apparently had two guns. A law enforcement official in Washington said one of the guns was a .223-caliber rifle.

President Obama, in an emotional address to the nation Friday afternoon, said, “These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children.”

“I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do,” he said. “The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. … They had their entire lives ahead of them. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.”

“Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to help their children achieve their dreams,” he said.

Like other parents around the country, Obama said, “This evening, Michelle and I will ... hug our children a little tighter and tell them that we love them … but there are families in Connecticut who cannot do that tonight.”

“While nothing can fill the space of a lost child or a loved one, all of us can extend a hand to those in need, to remind them that we are there for them, that we are praying for them, that the love they felt for the ones they have lost will endure in their memories but also in ours.”

Public records show that Ryan Lanza lived at 36 Yogananda Street at one point, and he is also listed as living in Hoboken, N.J. Police are searching that residence as well, sources say.

Three people were brought to Danbury Hospital. Their conditions are not confirmed. The emergency room is on lockdown.

Vance said two children died at a local hospital and another had injuries.

Soon after 9:40 a.m., police reported that a shooter was in the main office of the school. A person in one room had “numerous gunshot wounds,” police said.

Groups of students — some crying, some holding hands — were being escorted away from the school by their teachers. Some students were still in the school at 10:30 a.m., parents said, as police searched the area.

Police were still searching the school at 11 a.m., and police dogs were brought in. Around noon, the triage area was broken down, stretchers were taken away and the SWAT team left the building.

Sandy Hook Elementary has nearly 700 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. Its doors are locked at 9:30 a.m., and visitors are required to sign in, according to the school’s website.

School and local emergency officials were accounting for the children, who were released to their parents. Some parents were sequestered at the Sandy Hook Fire Department, directly in front of the school.

By 4 p.m., somber groups of families were leaving the firehouse, many accompanied by police or firefighters.

Earlier, frustrated parents were desperately trying to get information from officials as they searched the school.

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, 17-year-old Mergim Bajraliu, a senior at Newtown High School, was at his nearby home when he heard shots, he said. He first 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.

Mergim 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 the teacher went to go check, came back in and 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,” Wilford said.

Brendan Murray, a 9-year-old fourth grader, said he was in the gym with his class when they 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. He said “lots of people were crying.”

Eight-year-old Alexis Wasik, a third-grader at the school, said police were checking 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 that 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.

Students at nearby Newtown High School were stunned.

Senior Alex Buttery said when she learned of the shootings, “I immediately thought of Sandy Hook,” she said. “It’s devastating.”

Buttery, walking out of the school with her friend Clare Donnelly, said she’d cried a lot.

Donnelly said “it’s hard to wrap your head around” the shooting. “It’s difficult to watch (young children) go through this.”

Junior Renee Henriques said she was “shocked, speechless” by the shootings.

Buttery said she had been texting back and forth with her mother all day. “I went there,” she said of Sandy Hook School. “I know the teachers. I’m just wondering who it is.” Her mother, she said, was very emotional. They “know a lot of neighbors who go to Sandy Hook.”

NHS student Stefanie Carr said she was having a hard time processing what had happened. “I just couldn’t process how I felt. I’m still trying to get over it.”

All of the students had the same question: “Why someone would do that to the children?”

James Dietter, 26, lives in the Yogananda neighborhood where a person was found dead. His mother works in the school system.

“This is the idyllic New England hamlet … there was a bit of a magical insulation or feeling that tragedy won’t happen here. Now it has, and, unfortunately, I think it is going to define this town.”

Newtown United Methodist Church opened the doors around noon after ministers there heard of the tragedy. Brad Tefft, a bereavement minister at the church, drove in and opened the doors.

“I better get down there. It’s in our neighborhood,” Tefft remembered thinking.

He created a sign that said “prayer vigil,” which he placed out by the street, and also put a sign on the door saying sanctuary open.

“We are taught to listen and offer that cold cup of water when necessary,” Tefft said.

As word spread of the magnitude of the tragedy in Newtown, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy talked on the telephone with President Obama about the incident and held a press conference after Obama addressed the nation.

“Earlier today, a tragedy of unspeakable terms played itself out in this community,” he said. “You can never be prepared for this incident.”

“Beautiful children had their lives taken away from them, as well as adults whose responsibility it is to supervise and take care of those children,” Malloy said.

Malloy spent time with the families, said Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior adviser.

“He is attempting to make sure they get the information they need. It is an unspeakable scene.”

Malloy ordered state and U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff.

In Washington, D.C., House Speaker John Boehner ordered flags at the U.S. Capitol to be flown at half-staff.

State officials reacted with shock and alarm to the shootings.

House Republican leader Larry Cafero and Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams were both stunned upon hearing that 27 had been killed. Cafero put his hand over his mouth in an immediate reaction.

The state departments of public health, education, mental health and addiction services, and the state police are all working on the incident.

Incoming U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who represents Newtown as part of the 5th Congressional District, said, “As a mother, I can only begin to imagine what the students, parents, teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary must be experiencing. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by this horrific tragedy. While details are still emerging, I hope for the safety and well being of the children, teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary and for the Newtown community.”

Incoming U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy arrived at the firehouse around 2:30 p.m. and went to talk with parents.

Afternoon buses and kindergarten were cancelled. The entire Newton district was put on lockdown, and other school districts took similar measures across the state.

In West Hartford, Superintendent Karen List sent a recorded message to families Friday noting an increased police presence at town schools after the Newtown shootings.

“It’s really for reassurance,” List said. Counselors will also be available for students at the schools, and West Hartford administrators are now creating a set of talking points for parents if they decide to explain the shootings to their children over the weekend.

A meeting of Farmington Valley-area superintendents that was scheduled for Friday was canceled.

“We need to be in our districts,” List said. “We need to be communicating with our families; we need to be supporting our faculty and children.”

Southington schools were placed on a precautionary “passive lockdown” in which exterior doors are locked, Assistant Superintendent Karen Smith said. “We’re asking all administrators to be vigilant and to be aware of what is going on.”

In Waterbury, Wilby, Crosby and Kennedy high schools have canceled Friday’s afternoon and night games, according to the school system. Other after-school activities for Waterbury schools will go on as planned, but there will be police on the premises.

Bridgeport Superintendant of Schools Paul G. Vallas has canceled all after-school programs except for the Central High School basketball game.

All Winterfest Hartford activities in Bushnell Park in Hartford will be closed today. The skating rink is closed effective immediately and will re-open tomorrow on regular schedule.

Schools in the Pomperaug Regional School District 15, based in nearby Southbury and Middlebury, were put on lockdown after the shootings, Superintendent Frank Sippy said. After-school and weekend activities were canceled.

“Everyone is searching for the reason why — why such a senseless tragedy has to transpire in this country,” Sippy said.

“We’ll take the weekend to reflect. I just think it’s time for people to step back and take a breath and spend time with loved ones,” said Sippy, who has offered the district’s services to Newtown schools.

The only mass shooting in the U.S. with more than 27 killed since the 1950s took place on April 16, 2007, when a student named Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in Blackburg, Va., before shooting himself.

On May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe, school board treasurer in Bath Township, Mich., bombed three schools, killing 38 children, two teachers and four other adults, as well as himself, because he was enraged by higher taxes to fund a new school.

Hartford Courant staff writers David Owens, Dave Altimari, Josh Kovner, Marc O’Connell, Chris Keating, Samaia Hernandez, Denise Buffa, Steve Goode, Brian Dowling, Hilda Munoz, Jenny Wilson, Vanessa de la Torre, Bernie Davidow, Naedine Hazell, Sandy Csizmar and Stephen Busemeyer contributed to this report.

©2012 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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