Newtown: Twenty schoolchildren were slaughtered by a heavily armed gunman who opened fire at a suburban elementary school in Connecticut on Friday, killing at least 27 people including himself in the one of the worst mass shootings in the US history.
The 20-year-old gunman, who law enforcement sources identified as Adam Lanza, opened fire on a classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which serves children from ages five to 10. Authorities found 18 children and seven adults, including the gunman, dead at the school, and two children were pronounced dead later after being taken to a hospital. Another adult was found dead at a related crime scene in Newtown, bringing the toll to 28, state police Lieutenant Paul Vance said.
As reports of the shooting spread, panicked parents rushed to the school searching for their children as students covered in blood were being carried out of the building. US President Barack Obama, wiping away tears and pausing to collect his emotions in an address to the nation, mourned the "beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old" who were killed.
"Our hearts are broken today, for the parents, and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children and for the families of the adults who were lost," Obama said, his voice cracking. "Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children's innocence has been torn away from them too early and there are no words that will ease their pain," said Obama, who has two young daughters.
"Evil visited this community today," Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy told reporters. Adam Lanza's brother, Ryan Lanza, was "either in custody or being questioned," a law enforcement source said. The New York Times reported that the gunman walked into a classroom where his mother was a teacher, shot his mother and then 20 students, most in the same classroom, before shooting five other adults and killing himself. One other person was shot at the school and survived, the Times said.
Other media reports said the gunman's mother was found dead at a house nearby. The gunman - who according to a media report carried four weapons and wore a bulletproof vest - was dead inside the school, Vance said. The holiday season tragedy was the second shooting rampage in the United States this week and the latest in a series of mass killings this year, and was certain to revive a debate about US gun laws. The guns that were used by the shooter were legally purchased and registered in his mother's name.
Chaos struck as children gathered in their classrooms for morning meetings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, a city of 27,000 in Fairfield County, about 80 miles (130 km) northeast of New York City. Police swarmed the scene and locked down the school, rushing children to safety. Distraught parents converged, frantically searching for their daughters and sons. Neighbors and friends wandered in shock, looking for information.
"It's hard to believe that anything like this could happen in this town," said resident Peter Alpi, 70, as he fought back tears. "It's a very quiet town. Maybe it's too quiet." Obama ordered flags flown at half-staff at US public buildings. "As a country, we have been through this too many times," Obama said, ticking off a list of recent shootings.
"We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," Obama said in apparent reference to the influence of the National Rifle Association over members of Congress. Obama remains committed to trying to renew a ban on assault weapons, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
The Connecticut shootings appear certain to trigger renewed debate over US gun laws. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder of the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said it was "almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen. "We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership - not from the White House and not from Congress," he said. "That must end today."
French President Francois Hollande, in an open letter to Obama, said he was "horrified" by the shootings. British Prime Minister David Cameron said, "It is heartbreaking to think of those who have had their children robbed from them at such a young age, when they had so much life ahead of them."
Vance said the shootings took place in two rooms of Sandy Hook Elementary School, which teaches children from kindergarten through fourth grade, roughly aged 5 to 10. Witnesses reported hearing dozens of shots; some said as many as 100 rounds.
"It was horrendous," said parent Brenda Lebinski, who rushed to the school where her daughter is in the third grade. "Everyone was in hysterics - parents, students. There were kids coming out of the school bloodied. I don't know if they were shot, but they were bloodied."
Lebinski said a mother who was at the school during the shooting told her a "masked man" entered the principal's office and may have shot the principal. Lebinski's daughter's teacher "immediately locked the door to the classroom and put all the kids in the corner of the room."
Melissa Murphy, who lives near the school, monitored events on a police scanner. "I kept hearing them call for the mass casualty kit and scream, 'Send everybody! Send everybody!'" she said. "It doesn't seem like it can be really happening. I feel like I'm in shock."
The toll exceed that of one of the most notorious US school shootings, the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where two teenagers killed 13 students and staff before killing themselves. A girl described to NBC Connecticut hearing seven loud "booms" while she was in gym class. Other children began crying and teachers moved the students to an office, she said.
"A police officer came in and told us to run outside and so we did," the unidentified girl said on camera. The United States has experienced a number of shooting rampages this year, most recently in Oregon, where a gunman opened fire at a shopping mall on Tuesday, killing two people and then himself.
The deadliest came in July at a midnight screening of a Batman film in Colorado that killed 12 people and wounded 58. In 2007, 32 people were killed at Virginia Tech university in the deadliest act of criminal gun violence in US history.