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October 22, 2014

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Man kills mother, then 26 at Connecticut elementary school, including 20 children

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Shannon Hicks/Newtown Bee/AP

In this photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut State Police lead children from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., after a reported shooting there Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.

Updated Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 | 8:58 p.m.

Connecticut Elementary School Shooting

David Freedman, right, kneels with his son Zachary, 9, both of Newtown, Conn., as they visit a sidewalk memorial for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. Launch slideshow »

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NEWTOWN, Conn. — A man killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday inside an elementary school, massacring 26 people, including 20 children, as youngsters cowered in fear to the sound of gunshots reverberating through the building and screams echoing over the intercom.

The 20-year-old killer, carrying at least two handguns, committed suicide at the school, bringing the death toll to 28, authorities said.

The rampage, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, was the nation's second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the Virginia Tech massacre that claimed 33 lives in 2007.

"Our hearts are broken today," a tearful President Barack Obama, struggling to maintain his composure, said at the White House. He called for "meaningful action" to prevent such shootings, saying, "As a country, we have been through this too many times."

Police shed no light on the motive for the attack. The gunman, Adam Lanza, was believed to suffer from a personality disorder and lived with his mother, said a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to discuss it.

Panicked parents looking for their children raced to Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, a prosperous New England community of about 27,000 people 60 miles northeast of New York City. Police told youngsters at the kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school to close their eyes as they were led from the building so that they wouldn't see the blood and broken glass.

Schoolchildren — some crying, others looking frightened — were escorted through a parking lot in a line, hands on each other's shoulders.

Law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity said that Lanza killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, then drove to the school in her car with at least three guns, including a high-powered rifle that he apparently left in the back of the vehicle, and shot up two classrooms around 9:30 a.m.

A custodian ran through the halls, warning of a gunman on the loose, and someone switched on the intercom, alerting people in the building to the attack — and perhaps saving many lives — by letting them hear the hysteria going on in the school office, a teacher said. Teachers locked their doors and ordered children to huddle in a corner or hide in closets as shots echoed through the building.

Authorities gave no details on exactly how the attack unfolded, but police radio traffic indicated the shooting lasted only a few minutes. State police Lt. Paul Vance said officers arrived instantaneously, immediately entered the school, searched it completely and found Lanza dead.

In addition to the 20 children, six adults were killed at the school; the principal was believed to be among the dead. A woman who worked at Sandy Hook Elementary was wounded.

A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said investigators believe Lanza attended the school several years ago but appeared to have no recent connection to the place.

At least one parent said Lanza's mother was a substitute teacher there. But her name did not appear on a staff list. And the law enforcement official said investigators were unable to establish any connection so far between her and the school.

Lanza's older brother, 24-year-old Ryan, of Hoboken, N.J., was being questioned, but a law enforcement official said he was not believed to have had a role in the rampage. Investigators were searching his computers and phone records, but he told law enforcement he had not been in touch with his brother since about 2010.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the unfolding investigation.

At one point, a law enforcement official mistakenly identified the gunman as Ryan Lanza. Brett Wilshe, a friend of Ryan Lanza's, said Lanza told him the gunman may have had his identification. Ryan Lanza apparently posted Facebook page updates Friday afternoon that read, "It wasn't me" and "I was at work."

Robert Licata said his 6-year-old son was in class when the gunman burst in and shot the teacher. "That's when my son grabbed a bunch of his friends and ran out the door," he said. "He was very brave. He waited for his friends."

He said the shooter didn't utter a word.

Stephen Delgiadice said his 8-year-old daughter heard two big bangs. Teachers told her to get in a corner, he said. "It's alarming, especially in Newtown, Connecticut, which we always thought was the safest place in America," he said. His daughter was uninjured.

Theodore Varga was in a meeting with other fourth-grade teachers when he heard the gunfire. He said someone had turned on the intercom so that "you could hear people in the office. You could hear the hysteria that was going on. I think whoever did that saved a lot of people. Everyone in the school was listening to the terror that was transpiring."

Also, a custodian ran around, warning people there was someone with a gun, Varga said.

"He said, 'Guys! Get down! Hide!'" Varga said. "So he was actually a hero." The teacher said he did not know if the custodian survived.

Mergim Bajraliu, 17, said he heard the gunshots echo from his home and ran to check on his 9-year-old sister at the school. He said his sister, who was uninjured, heard a scream come over the intercom. He said teachers were shaking and crying as they came out of the building.

"Everyone was just traumatized," he said.

On Friday night, hundreds of people packed a Newtown church and stood outside in a vigil for the victims. People held hands, lit candles and sang "Silent Night" at St. Rose of Lima church. Anthony Bloss, whose three daughters survived the shootings, said they are doing better than he is. "I'm numb. I'm completely numb," he said at the vigil.

Mary Pendergast said her 9-year-old nephew was in the school at the time of the shooting but wasn't hurt after his music teacher helped him take cover in a closet.

Richard Wilford's 7-year-old son, Richie, told him that he heard a noise that sounded like "cans falling." The boy said a teacher went out to check on the noise, came back in, locked the door and had the children huddle in the corner until police arrived.

"There's no words," Wilford said. "It's sheer terror, a sense of imminent danger, to get to your child and be there to protect him."

On Friday afternoon, family members were led away from a firehouse that was being used as a staging area, some of them weeping. One man, wearing a T-shirt without a jacket, put his arms around a woman as they walked down the middle of the street, oblivious to everything around them. Another woman with tears rolling down her face walked by, carrying a car seat with a baby inside.

"Evil visited this community today and it's too early to speak of recovery, but each parent, each sibling, each member of the family has to understand that Connecticut — we're all in this together. We'll do whatever we can to overcome this event," Gov. Dannel Malloy said.

Adam Lanza and his mother lived in a well-to-do part of Newtown where neighbors are doctors or hold white-collar positions at companies such as General Electric, Pepsi and IBM.

At least three guns were found — a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both pistols, inside the school, and a .223-caliber rifle in the back of a car, authorities said. A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said some of the guns used in the attack may have belonged to Lanza's mother, who had legally bought five weapons.

Authorities also recovered three other guns — a Henry repeating rifle, an Enfield rifle and a shotgun. It was not clear exactly where those weapons were found.

The shootings instantly brought to mind such tragedies as the Columbine High School massacre that killed 15 in 1999 and the July shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., that left 12 dead.

"You go to a movie theater in Aurora and all of a sudden your life is taken," Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis said. "You're at a shopping mall in Portland, Ore., and your life is taken. This morning, when parents kissed their kids goodbye knowing that they are going to be home to celebrate the holiday season coming up, you don't expect this to happen."

He added: "It has to stop, these senseless deaths."

Obama's comments on the tragedy amounted to one of the most outwardly emotional moments of his presidency.

"The majority of those who died were children — beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old," Obama said.

He paused for several seconds to keep his composure as he teared up and wiped an eye. Nearby, two aides cried and held hands as they listened to Obama.

"They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, wedding, kids of their own," Obama continued about the victims. "Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children."

Associated Press writers Jim Fitzgerald in Newtown, Pete Yost in Washington, D.C., and Michael Melia in Hartford contributed to this report.

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  1. A gun to a domestic terrorist is the same as a WMD to an international terrorist.

    Guns serve one purpose - to kill people. And that is precisely what has happened here.

    You can cry all you want - you can argue alternatives for guns - but at the end of the day - go pound sand because Guns are designed for one thing - to kill people.

    So long as we fail to impose heavy gun regulations - we will continue to see these kinds of senseless acts.

  2. Man o man. Until I moved here Sep2011 my house was 20 minutes from Sandy Hook. Can't imagine whats going on over there right now.

  3. When are we going to start arming school officials, like airline pilots?

  4. I can't begin to imagine what the parents and friends must feel at this point. I can only offer sympathy from my wife and myself and think of my kids.

    There will be much to discuss after this, but not now.

  5. To all those people claiming that gun's don't kill people - Weapons of Mass Destruction don't kill people either - but in the hands of an ill-intended person - they cause great harm to many - so you regulate them!

    Here, a classroom full of children - all executed with the ease of a gun. Innocent children!

    We must not allow these gun totting zealots prevent strict gun control laws to minimize the probability of these incidents from occurring.

    It truly is flabbergasting how so many children die at the hands of a gun totting mentally unstable person - yet gun advocates will ignore the simple fact - guns are a tool designed for one thing - to kill people. In the hands of the wrong person - they can have dire consequences as we've seen here today.

    We must impose very strict gun control laws. The burden should not be placed on society - the burden should be placed on gun availability!

  6. In a country where guns are so easily available we should expect something like this to happen every now and then. It's collateral damage. If you're okay with something like this happening a few times a year then leave the gun laws alone. After all, it is still unlikely that you or your family will be a victim. However, if you find the killing of innocent children appalling, then perhaps it may be time to at least consider some changes in our current gun control laws as well as school emergency procedures.

  7. SOB killed his mom and her entire class.
    Kindergartners.Just unimaginable grief and sorrow. Feel so bad for all those effected both now and in the future.May God rest their souls.

  8. "The Pentagon estimates the total cost for development and production of 2,443 F-35s will be $395.7 billion, a 70 percent increase since the initial contract with Lockheed Martin was signed in 2001."

    At least $400 billion will be spent on F-35s to protect America, but not a single fighter or a single penny spent on F-35s will prevent this shooting from happening again and again, and again. $400 billion will be spent but no safety gained, and this is only the beginning.

    Homeland Security has failed. This shooting was the same action and brought the same end as a terrorist attack. What will Homeland Security do to prevent the next shooting? Or should a five year old learn to carry and shoot a gun?

  9. WHY? While there are other, better actions, some feel hopeless--that they do NOT have much chance of a "good" or pleasant life. They feel rejected, even by Mom. I don't pretend to know what was in this young man's mind but after killing Mom, he killed the kids that she "mothered." We need to explain to our children, neighbors, community, that EVERYONE always has options. Your life might not be a lot of fun right now but things WILL change. You will have more options next week and next year.

  10. Another day, another heavily armed mentally ill kid, another mass murder.

  11. Another day, another mass murder, this one at an elementary school.
    What's rotting at the core of our society?
    No, it's not about gun control, it's about the sick people pulling the triggers.
    Today I just hang my head in shame for the human race...

  12. Mentally Ill? He's a PIECE OF HUMAN GARBAGE! Not only is it time to restrict weapons, but start creating incredibly harsh punishments for violent criminals.

  13. In college I wrote a thesis on the second ammendment. I've got a totally different take on the 2d amend. after reading the notes from our founding fathers, I came to believe that the way the 2d amend is currently being administered is totally wrong. We need to get back to basics.
    Even with the current interpretatations of the 2d amend. we must find a way to control firearms without trampling on the rights SCOTUS thinks we need.
    On another note, how many of you have acully pointed a gun at another human being(with or without a gun in hand) with the intent of firing. I have, even in war it's extremly difficult to pull that trigger.