Principal among those killed
Newtown home. Early reports that she had been a part-time teacher at the school were later questioned, leaving the tie, if any, between her and Sandy Hook, where he son had been a student, unclear.
The rampage, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, was the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which a gunman killed 32 people and then himself.
The gunman was chillingly accurate. A spokesman for the state police said all but one of the people shot had died, suggesting the gunman fired at point-blank range.
One law enforcement official said the shootings occurred in two classrooms in one portion of the school. The principal was among the dead.
Law enforcement officials offered no hint of what motivated Lanza. One official said that investigators were asking why — if Lanza’s rage was directed mainly toward his mother, as appeared to be the case — he had opened fire on other people’s children.
FBI agents interviewed his brother, Ryan, in Hoboken, N.J. His father, Peter, who was divorced from Nancy Lanza, was also expected to be questioned, one official said.
Newtown was plunged into mourning. Stunned residents attended four memorial services in the town Friday evening as detectives continued the search for clues.
Maureen Kerins, a hospital nurse who lives near the school, learned of the shootings from television and hurried to the scene to see if she could help.
“I stood outside waiting to go in, but a police officer came out and said they didn’t need any nurses, so I knew it wasn’t good,” Kerins said.
In the cold light of Friday morning, faces had told the story outside the stricken school. There were the frightened faces of children who were crying as they were led out in a line. There were the grim faces of three women who emerged with their arms around one another. There were the relieved-looking faces of a couple and a little girl in a light blue jacket, riding high on her father’s shoulders.
The shootings set off a tide of anguish nationwide. In Illinois and Georgia, flags were lowered to half-staff in memory of the victims. At the White House, President Barack Obama struggled to read a statement in the briefing room.
“Our hearts are broken today,” Obama said, adding that his first reaction was not as a president but as a parent. “I know there is not a parent in America who does not feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”
He called the victims “beautiful little kids.”
“They had their entire lives ahead of them: birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own,” he said.
Then the president reached up to the corner of one eye.
Obama called for “meaningful action” to stop such shootings, but he did not spell out details.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, who went to Newtown, called the shootings “a tragedy of unspeakable terms.”
“Evil visited this community today,” he said.
Lt. J. Paul Vance, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Police, described “a very horrific and difficult scene” at the school. It had a security protocol that called for doors to be locked during the school day and for visitors to be checked on a video monitor inside.
“You had to buzz in and out and the whole nine yards,” said a former chairwoman of the Newtown Board of Education, Lillian Bittman.
But the lock system did not go into effect until 9:30 each morning, according to a letter sent to parents by the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, that was posted on several news websites. Hochsprung was among the dead, although no victims’ names had been confirmed by authorities.
Vance said the Newtown police had called for help from nearby police departments and had immediately begun a manhunt, checking “every nook and cranny and every room.”
Vance said 18 youngsters were pronounced dead at the school and two others were taken to a hospital where they were declared dead. All the adults who were killed at the school were pronounced dead there.
At the home of Hochsprung’s daughter Cristina Hassinger, in Oakville, Conn., the family spent the afternoon waiting for word.
“We’re looking for any hope,” said Ryan Hassinger, a son-in-law.
“I looked on Twitter and it says that she is passed,” Hassinger said. But he added that the family was “just waiting.”