NEWTOWN, Conn. — As this once-placid town struggled Saturday with the horror of 20 children and six adults gunned down at an elementary school, authorities said first-graders were shot as many as 11 times, some at close range.
“This is a very devastating set of injuries,” Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver II said. “I’ve been at this for a third of a century and my sensibilities may not be the average man’s, but this is probably the worst I have seen or the worst that I know of any of my colleagues having seen.”
Officials released the victims’ identities, a list of 12 girls and eight boys, all 6 or 7 years old. The adult victims were all women, including the principal, school psychologist and four teachers. Carver described the weapon used in the shooting as a semi-automatic rifle.
Grief in this storybook New England town gathered like a storm.
“Our wound is deep,” said Patricia Llodra, head of Newtown’s Board of Selectman. “We are a strong and caring place. We will put our arms around those families and around each other. We will find a way to heal.”
New details emerged about the rampage that began Friday morning after the shooter killed his mother, whose body was found inside their home about three miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School.
After shooting his mother, the gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, took three weapons from their house, drove to the school in her car and forced his way onto the locked campus, law enforcement sources said.
The gunman “was not voluntarily let into the school. ... He forced his way in,” said State Police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance. It is not clear why he targeted the school, authorities said. His mother, Nancy Lanza, 52, had never been a teacher or a substitute teacher at the school, officials said. Her connection to the school, if any, remained unclear.
Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, and school psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, rushed the gunman, said Newtown schools Superintendent Janet Robinson. Both were killed.
As shots and screams echoed through the hallways of the kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school, teachers and students scrambled to hide in classrooms and closets. First-grade teacher Kaitlin Roig herded 15 children into a bathroom.
“I turned the lights off. I told them we had to be absolutely quiet,” Roig told ABC News. “I said there are bad guys out there now. I said now we need to wait for the good guys.”
Within minutes, it was over.
Monsignor Robert Weiss spent the night with state police and a grief counselor notifying families whose loved ones had been confirmed dead.
One family lost both a parent and a child.
“The reality is just settling in,” he said.
Weiss has ministered to parents who have lost young children before, but said little could prepare him for the magnitude of the grief he was witnessing.
“I just hope God’s hand will be on me,” he said. “I draw strength from these families. They have suffered and are still going.”
Parents here — and across the nation — grappled with how to explain the shootings to their children, especially so close to what is supposed to be a joyous holiday season.In Newtown, population about 27,000, many people know the victims or their families through a web of social ties, including sports leagues and churches. Some took down Christmas decorations and several church memorials were held.
A local plumber, who didn’t want to be named, described how he took his three children to a restaurant Friday night. Upon leaving, 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.”
It’s still unknown what motivated Lanza, who has been described as brilliant but remote. Lt. Vance said authorities “did produce some very good evidence in this investigation that our investigators can use to explain how, and more importantly, why this occurred.”
“We’re doing everything we need to do to literally peel back the onion, layer by layer,” Vance said, but declined to give more details.
Law enforcement sources said Lanza was disturbed by the 2009 divorce of his parents, Peter and Nancy. Ryan Lanza told investigators his younger brother had behavioral issues.
Authorities say Adam Lanza left his house with a Bushmaster .223 rifle and two handguns — a Glock 9-millimeter and a Sig Sauer semiautomatic.
“We know the manufacturers, and are pretty sure when they were purchased,” a law enforcement source said. “But the trace is not complete yet.”
Just days before the shooting, Lanza attempted to purchase a rifle from a sporting goods store in Canton, Conn., about 50 miles from Newtown. He was turned away because he didn’t want to wait for the required 14-day background check, according to two federal law enforcement officials.
Investigators were still swarming over the school Saturday looking for evidence. A temporary facility was set up in the parking lot Friday night to identify the victims.
Medical examiners took photographs of the children’s faces for parental identification, sparing parents from having to view the bodies.
As Saturday wore on, new memorials appeared with every hour.
Kristen Burleson bought out all the bouquets of roses in the Stop and Shop grocery store in her hometown of Wilton, 30 miles from Newtown. She walked the streets here handing roses one by one to every woman she encountered.
“They need to know that we care,” she said. “And I know the heart of the whole nation goes out to this town.”
The crush of news media and humming satellite trucks stalled traffic. Nerves began to fray.
A noon service at St. John’s Episcopal Church drew dozens of mourners and media from around the world. The click of camera shutters irritated some mourners, who at one point ushered photographers out, telling them “this is a worship service.” When they returned, a few women held up brochures in front of the cameras when they tried to take photos.
“What this young man stole was — he gave a great victory to anger and hatred and evil,” the Rev. Mark Moore told the crowd, speaking of the gunman. “If that happens, evil has won a great victory. We can never let that happen. ... Love will conquer all.”
Mary Fellows, a Newtown resident whose children went to Sandy Hook Elementary years ago, spoke out against gun violence and video games that “glorify the idea of combat.”
She sat crying in a pew, alone.
“It has to stop now,” she said, wiping away tears. “Change has to start now. We have to make it worth it.... If your kid is quiet, and they seem very disconnected, that’s not OK. It’s not going to pass; it’s not a phase; it’s something very serious.”
On a cement wall under a bridge that spans a small river, someone had written the following lines in black paint:
“We have everything / and we have nothing / small and unstable / we self destruct / we are sleeping sheep / and there are wolves among us.”
It’s unclear if the graffito was painted before the shooting Friday or went up overnight.
But on a cold day in Newtown, its truth was undeniable.
• Susman and Semuels of the Los Angeles Times and Bennett of the Tribune Washington Bureau reported from Connecticut. Times staff writers Mike Anton and Michael Muskal contributed from Los Angeles and Richard A. Serrano of the Tribune Washingnton Bureau from Washington.