NEWTOWN, Conn. — A gunman massacred 20 children and six adults at a suburban elementary school here Friday morning before killing himself in what appeared to be the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, authorities said.
Sources said Adam Lanza, 20, earlier killed his mother at home and then drove her Honda to Sandy Hook Elementary School equipped with firearms that were registered to one or both of his divorced parents.
Clad in military fatigues and carrying two semiautomatic pistols, he entered the school, argued with someone in the hallway and then opened fire on staff members and children around 9:30 a.m., a law enforcement source said. He focused his gunfire on two rooms. Children huddled in closets and corners as the carnage unfolded.
Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance said police searched “every nook and cranny” of the kindergarten-through-fourth-grade campus after receiving a 911 call. He said 18 children and seven adults were found dead at the school — including the shooter — and two other children died at the hospital. Victims’ bodies remained inside the school into the evening as relatives were gathered at a nearby fire station.
Vance did not officially identify the shooter or any of the dead. He said another adult had been killed elsewhere in Newtown, but he did not say whether it was Lanza’s mother. Police are questioning Lanza’s 24-year-old brother, Ryan, of Hoboken, N.J., the Associated Press reported.
It was the deadliest school shooting since 32 were murdered in the 2007 Virginia Tech rampage.
“Evil visited this community today,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday evening. “It’s too early to speak of recovery.”
Chris Manfredonia, whose 6-year-old daughter attends the school, was heading there Friday morning to help make gingerbread houses with first-graders when he heard popping sounds and smelled sulfur.
He ran around the school trying to reach his daughter and was briefly handcuffed by police. He later found his child, who had been locked in a small room with a teacher.
“The whole reason we moved here a year ago is because when you drive down the subdivision, it’s a happy place,” said his wife, Georgeann Manfredonia. “There’s a ton of children here and the families are very kind and supportive.”
Geneva Cunningham, 9, a fourth-grader, said she was in the library when the shooting erupted and she heard “a lot of screaming and yelling.”
She said the school loudspeaker came on, and through it came the sound of a scream and then “really deep breathing.”
A teacher ordered her and other students into a closet. “They told us it was a drill and that it was for our own safety,” she said. “When it was happening there was a lot of glass shattering.” At first, she said, some students thought an animal was loose. She said she heard about seven muted gunshots.
A fourth-grade boy told CNN that he was in the gym when he heard pops and bangs.
“We thought it was the custodian knocking stuff down,” the boy said. “We heard screaming ... and then the police came in and said, ‘Is he in here?’”
When it was deemed safe, students were led out of the school. They were told to close their eyes. Some were taken to a nearby fire station. Some ran. Some walked single-file, hands on each other’s shoulders.
Parents rushed to collect their children. Others waited in anguish for news of their kids’ fate. People trickled out of the school throughout the day.
The school sits at the end of a two-lane road, lined with barns converted to houses, in an affluent town of about 28,000 people about 60 miles from New York City. The scene quickly bore the hallmarks of other mass casualties, with whirling news helicopters and masses of reporters, law enforcement and rescue personnel.
The street leading to the school, cut off to most cars Friday, became a pathway for people running to the school to find out what happened to loved ones.
Susan Birge, a mental health disaster counselor, spent Friday afternoon in the fire station down the road from the school, huddling with grieving families.
“They are just devastated,” she said. Families will not be able to see their loved ones at least until tomorrow because the crime scene is so extensive, she said. Birge said most of the families seemed to have children who were 5 or 6 years old.
President Obama ordered flags to be flown at half-staff.
“We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years, and each time I hear the news, I react not as a president but as everybody else would, as a parent,” Obama said in an emotional televised address during which he dabbed his eyes. “And that is especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”
Obama added, “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.”
Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, wouldn’t say whether the shooting would make gun control a higher priority on the president’s agenda, but he said there would be a day for discussion on that subject.
“But I don’t think today is that day,” he said.
Others did not delay in calling for gun legislation. “This touches us all so deeply, and it is long past time that we enacted sensible gun laws and school safety legislation,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
Stephen Delgiadice said his 8-year-old daughter attends the school and took shelter in a corner during the shooting. She was unhurt. “It’s alarming, especially in Newtown, Conn., which we always thought was the safest place in America,” he said in a TV interview.
Late Friday, somber-faced residents streamed into St. Rose of Lima Church on a hill near central Newtown for a memorial. Wreaths were unloaded from the back of a van.
Brian Wallace, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, said the parish may have lost seven to 10 members in the shooting.
“Many people in there have been profoundly affected by this,” Wallace said. “Their world has been turned upside down.”
As the service began, Malloy said, “May God bless our children today, and those who were taken away.”
The night before the shootings, Georgeann Manfredonia said, she spent a couple of hours wrapping presents for the school principal and teachers.
“It’s a wonderful school run by an amazing principal,” she said.
“She’s just the most positive, energetic person you’ve ever met.”
Manfredonia said her upscale neighborhood — home to lawyers, doctors and executives — had always felt safe, with little crime she could recall. She said she volunteers at the school library and in her daughter’s classroom.
The principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was presumed to be among the dead.
“I took it so for granted that these people would always be there,” Manfredonia said. “It breaks my heart that the principal may not be there anymore.”
She added, “I just want to go back on Monday and have it all be the same happy place it’s always been.”
Serrano reported from Washington and Susman and Semuels from Newtown.
Times staff writers Robin Abcarian, Marisa Gerber, Andrew Khouri, Michael Muskal and Sam Quinones in Los Angeles, Kim Murphy in Seattle and Richard Simon in Washington contributed to this report.