• Photos: Connecticut school shooting
The principal and another staff member at an elementary school in Connecticut had rushed a gunman who forced his way inside, an act of courage that cost both of them their lives, a school superintendent said Saturday. In all, the gunman killed 26 people, 20 of them children, in the nation's second-deadliest school shooting.
The principal, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, was running at the gunman “in order to protect her students” when she was shot, Superintendent Janet Robinson said. The school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, also tried to stop the gunman and was killed, Robinson said in brief remarks outside the school.
“Teachers were really, really focused on saving their students,” Robinson added.
There were several other acts of bravery during the maelstrom. Robinson said one teacher had helped children escape through a window. Another shoved students into a room with a kiln and held them there until the danger had passed.
Another teacher killed, according to a Facebook post, apparently shooed her first-graders into closets and cabinets when she heard the first shots, and then, by some accounts, told the gunman that the youngsters were in the gym before being gunned down.
On a day of anguish and mourning, other details emerged about how but not why the devastating attack had happened, turning a place where children were supposed to be safe — an elementary school with a sign out front that said “Visitors Welcome” — into a national symbol of heartbreak and horror.
The educators' bravery wasn't enough: First responders described a scene of carnage in the two classrooms where the children were killed, with no movement and no one left to save, everything perfectly still.
The gunman, identified as Adam Lanza, 20, had grown up in Newtown and had an uncle who had been a police officer in New Hampshire. The uncle, James M. Champion, issued a statement expressing “heartfelt sorrow,” adding that the family was struggling “to comprehend the tremendous loss we all share.”
A spokesman for the Connecticut State Police, Lt. J. Paul Vance, said investigators continued to press for information about the gunman, and had collected “some very good evidence.” He also said that the one person who was shot and lived, a woman, would be “instrumental” in piecing together what had happened.
But the motivations for the attack were still unclear. A law enforcement official said investigators had not found a suicide note or messages that spoke to the planning of such a deadly attack. And Robinson said they had found no connection between the shooter's mother and the school, in contrast to accounts from law enforcement officials Friday that said she had worked there.
On Saturday, as families began to claim the bodies of lost loved ones, some sought privacy. Others spoke out. Robbie Parker, whose 6-year-old daughter, Emilie, was among the dead, choked back tears as he described her as “bright, creative and very loving.”
But, he added, “as we move on from what happened here, what happened to so many people, let us not let it turn into something that defines us.”
Connecticut's chief medical examiner, H. Wayne Carver II, said all of the 20 children and six adults gunned down at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown had been shot more than once, and some as many as 11 times. The victims' names and ages were released Saturday.
The children — 12 girls and eight boys — were all first-graders, 6 or 7 years old. One girl had just turned 7 on Tuesday. All of the adults killed were women.
Carver said their wounds were “all over, all over.”
When he was asked if they had suffered after they were hit, he said, “Not for very long.”
Carver said it appeared that all of the children had been killed by a “long rifle”; a .223 Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle was one of the several weapons police found in the school. The other guns were semi-automatic pistols, including a 10 mm Glock and a 9 mm Sig Sauer.
As to how many bullets were fired, Carver said he did not have an exact count. “There were lots of them,” he said.
Carver said that parents had identified their children from photographs to spare them from seeing the gruesome results of the rampage. He said that four doctors and 10 technicians had done the autopsies and that he had personally performed seven, all on first-graders.
“This is probably the worst I have seen or the worst that I know of any of my colleagues having seen,” said Carver, who is 60 and has been Connecticut's chief medical examiner since 1989.
He said that only the gunman and his first victim — his mother, Nancy Lanza — remained to be autopsied.
Outfitted in combat gear, Adam Lanza shot his way into the school Friday morning, defeating a security system requiring visitors to be buzzed in. This contradicted earlier reports that he had been recognized and allowed to enter the one-story school building. “He was not voluntarily let into the school at all,” Vance said. “He forced his way in.”
The lieutenant's account was consistent with recordings of police dispatchers who answered call after call from adults at the school.
“The front glass has been broken,” one dispatcher cautioned officers who were rushing there, repeating on the police radio what a 911 caller had said on the phone. “They are unsure why.”
The dispatchers kept up a running account of the drama at the school. “The individual I have on the phone indicates continuing to hear what he believes to be gunfire,” one dispatcher said.
Soon, another dispatcher reported that the “shooting appears to have stopped,” and the conversation on the official radios turned to making sure that help was available — enough help.
“What is the number of ambulances you will require?” a dispatcher asked.
The answer hinted at the unthinkable scope of the tragedy: “They are not giving us a number.”
Another radio transmission, apparently from someone at the school, underlined the desperation of the moment: “You might want to see if the surrounding towns can send EMS personnel. We're running out real quick, real fast.”
It was eerily silent in the school when police officers rushed in with their rifles drawn. There were the dead or dying in one section of the one-story building, while elsewhere, those who had eluded the bullets were under orders from their teachers to remain quiet in their hiding places.
The officers discovered still more carnage: After gunning down the children and the school employees, authorities said, the gunman had killed himself.
The principal, Hochsprung, 47, and the school psychologist, Sherlach, 56, were among the dead, and even before the medical examiner and the police had released the identities of the victims, others were being mourned on the Internet. The News-Times of Danbury, Conn., said that Lauren Rousseau, 30, had started as a full-time teacher in September after years of working as a substitute. “It was the best year of her life,” her mother was quoted as saying.
Victoria Soto, 27, was the first-grade teacher who reportedly hid her students, then lied to the gunman before he shot her. Her cousin, James Willsie, said she had “put herself between the gunman and the kids.”
“She lost her life protecting those little ones,” he said.
One student whose identity became known on the Web was Ana Marquez-Greene, the 6-year-old daughter of jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who had moved to Newtown in July.
“As much as she's needed here and missed by her mother, brother and me,” he wrote on Facebook, “Ana beat us all to paradise.” He added, “I love you, sweetie girl.”
Dorothy Werden, 49, lives across the street from Christopher and Lynn McDonnell, who lost their daughter Grace, 6, in the rampage. Werden remembered seeing Grace get on a bus Friday morning, as the girl did every morning at 8:45.
It was only when she saw police cars from out of town speed past her that she knew something was seriously wrong.
“A lot of my friends in the neighborhood lost their children,” Werden said. The feeling in the once-quiet streets Saturday morning is “absolute, indescribable devastation,” she added.
Like the rest of the nation, she said, local residents were struggling with a single question: Why?
“Why did he have to go to the elementary school and kill all of those defenseless children?” Werden said.