Connecticut shooting: Gunman forced his way into school, police say

NEWTOWN, Conn. -- The gunman in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history forced his way into a Connecticut elementary school, where he killed 26 children and adults before turning a weapon on himself, state police said Saturday, adding that they were continuing to search for evidence to explain how and why the rampage took place.

“We're doing everything we need to do to literally peel back the onion, layer by layer,” State Police spokesman, Lt. J. Paul Vance told reporters at a news conference. The gunman “was not voluntarily let into the school,” Vance said. “He forced his way in.”

Vance did not name the gunman, who has been identified by other law enforcement sources as Adam Lanza, 20, who lived in town with his mother, Nancy.

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Sources have said that Lanza began his spree by killing his mother and then driving to Sandy Hook Elementary School several miles away. At the school, those sources said, he fired two handguns, killing 20 children and six adults before killing himself.

The investigation at the school and at a “secondary crime scene,” the family’s home, is continuing as authorities seek answers to the massacre that has shocked this small western Connecticut town, the nation and the world.

The tender age of the victims, between 5 and 10 years old, and the violence of their deaths, has led to an outpouring of condolences, some from as far away as Australia and some as close as a neighbor’s tears at memorial services that began Friday night and will continue Saturday.

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The motive remains a mystery, but it is one authorities said they hope to determine.

The police searches "did produce some very good evidence in this investigation that our investigators can use to explain how -- and more importantly -- why this occurred," Vance said.

"We’re hopeful it will paint a complete picture of how and why this incident occurred,” he added.

Other law enforcement sources said it appeared Adam Lanza was quite disturbed by the 2009 divorce of his parents, Peter and Nancy. Ryan Lanza, who was questioned on Friday, told investigators that his younger brother had behavioral issues such as autism. Nancy Lanza did not work at the school, but may have been a volunteer there, sources said.

After shooting Nancy in the “face or head area,” according to these sources, Lanza then drove her Honda to the school. He parked in the fire lane in front of the main entrance, wasting no time to get inside the building.

He left a Bushmaster .223 rifle in the back seat, and took the two handguns -- a Glock 9-millimeter and a Sig Sauer semiautomatic -- inside. He was dressed in black camouflage and had Ryan’s ID on him.

The front door to the school was locked, and he either smashed the glass or shot it open. Investigators are not yet exactly sure because the police responding to the scene later smashed every door to get in too, sources said.

One woman was wounded in the attack. At the news conference, Vance said she was doing well and expected her to be a key witness.

Vance also said police were withholding some details, pending the completion of the investigation of the scenes, which could take at least one more day and possibly more. The bodies of the victims have been transported to the medical examiner’s office where efforts to determine the causes of death were continuing, though identifications have been completed.

The medical examiner’s office was still working on putting together a complete list of the victims. Those identifications could be publicly available at a later briefing on Saturday, Vance said.

While officials worked their way through the grim details of the investigation and its aftermath, Newtown struggled to come to grips with the tragedy, barely a day old. Saturday was cold December day typical of New England. Warmth was in much-needed demand, especially at the Sandy Hook Diner on Main Street.

It is Msgr. Robert Weiss' habit to have breakfast there every morning.

“The reality is just settling in,” he said.

Weiss was up before dawn on Saturday help the Connecticut state police notify families whose loved ones had been confirmed dead by investigators working at the crime scene through night. He joined a three-person team that included a Connecticut state police officer and a grief counselor.

One of the two families Weiss visited had lost both a parent and a child in the shooting.

He has ministered to parents who have lost young children before, but little could prepare him for the magnitude of evil that came to this town yesterday, he said.

"I just hope God's hand will be on me," he said.

Parents in this town of about 27,000 people -- as well as people all over the world -- grappled with how to explain the shootings to other children. In Newtown, many of the children will likely know one of the victims or the families through the web of social ties, including sports leagues and churches.

A local plumber, who asked to remain unnamed, described how he took his three children to a local restaurant Friday night. His 3-year-old son stopped and asked if there was a shooter waiting outside.

“They needed to know that they were not in danger,” the father said. “No one is going to hurt them.”

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Susman and Bennett reported from Newtown, Conn., and Muskal from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Richard A. Serrano contributed to this report.

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