Police said that as the day went on, they had accounted for every child who attended the school, tracking down even those who were absent because of illness. All had been accounted for, they said.
Perhaps the closest echo of this rampage, in the dark history of American massacres, might be a 1989 shooting in Stockton, Calif., where a drifter with an assault rifle opened fire on a schoolyard. Five children died, and 29 others were wounded before the gunman killed himself.
That episode served as a catalyst for a string of laws restricting the use and importation of assault weapons.
The guns used in Friday’s shootings were believed to have been purchased legally, and registered to a family member of Adam Lanza’s, a law enforcement source said.
Police said they were summoned to the school by a number of 911 calls. Both state and local police converged on the school, according to Connecticut State Police Lt. L. Paul Vance, and “began a complete active shooter search of the building.”
Meredith Artley, managing editor of CNN.com, described interviewing a woman who was at the school about 9:30 or 9:35 a.m. The woman was in a meeting with the principal, vice principal and school psychologist when they heard shots from the hall. The three school officials went into the hallway, and the vice principal came crawling back, shot in the foot, Artley said.
The witness, who was not identified but has a 7-year-old at the school, told Artley that she later passed the principal and the psychologist lying in the hallway, surrounded by pools of blood.
In this small town near the New York border, police cars began screaming toward the school. At Berkshire Motors, owner Jim Marcucilli thought he saw 40 police cruisers. He had been working on a car, but its owner, frantic, demanded back the keys. “Oh my God,” she said, according to Marcucilli. “I have to get my kid!”
Later, Marcucilli learned that he had a connection to the Lanza family: he had helped Nancy Lanza with dead batteries over the years, and had even bought a car from her. Such connections are common in a small place like Newtown, he said.
“You can’t get any closer to home” than an attack at the school, he said. “It’s definitely going to affect this community terribly.”
Students inside the school were evacuated to a nearby firehouse, where television reporters saw parents tearfully reuniting with their children.
Students recounted hearing police officers on the roof, and classmates so frightened they became sick to their stomachs.
In interview with New York’s WABC television, student Brendan Murray said he was in the gym when he heard a banging sound. Students at first thought a custodian had knocked something over, but then they heard a scream.
“Then a police came in and was like, ‘Is he in here?’ Then he ran out,” Murray said. “And then somebody yelled, ‘Get to a safe place!’ So we went to the closet in the gym.”
Eventually, he said, police escorted the students out of the school and to the firehouse, where they reunited with their classmates.
“We sat in our classes,” he said. “And were all really happy that we were all alive.”
Parent Stephen Delgiadice told the AP that his 8-year-old daughter heard two big bangs and teachers told her to get in a corner. His daughter was fine.
“It’s alarming, especially in Newtown, Connecticut, which we always thought was the safest place in America,” he said.
The superintendent’s office said the district had locked down schools in Newtown. Schools in neighboring towns also were locked down as a precaution.
A photo posted by The Newtown Bee newspaper showed a group of young students — some crying, others looking visibly frightened — being escorted by adults through a parking lot in a line, hands on each other’s shoulders.
Mergim Bajraliu, 17, heard the gunshots echo from his home and raced to check on his 9-year-old sister at the school. He told the AP his sister, who was fine, heard a scream come over the intercom at one point. He said teachers were shaking and crying as they came out of the building.
“Everyone was just traumatized,” he said.
Richard Wilford’s 7-year-old son, Richie, is in the second grade at the school. His son told him that he heard a noise that “sounded like what he described as cans falling.”
The boy told him a teacher went out to check on the noise, came back in, locked the door and had the kids huddle up in the corner until police arrived.
“There’s no words,” Wilford said, according to the AP. “It’s sheer terror, a sense of imminent danger, to get to your child and be there to protect him.”
Also Friday, White House press spokesman Carney told reporters that it was not the time to discuss gun control legislation.
“We’re still waiting for more information about the incident in Connecticut,” Carney replied when asked if the massacre raised questions about gun policy. “As we do, I think it’s important, on a day like today, to view this as I know the president, as a father, does, and others who are parents certainly do, which is to feel enormous sympathy for families that are affected and to do everything we can to support state and local law enforcement and to support those who are enduring what appears to be a very tragic event.”
He concluded, “I’m sure [there] will be rather a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I don’t think today is that day.”
Pressed on when that discussion would happen, the spokesman said it would — but not as we were still figuring out how the tragic massacre occurred.
“I think that day will come, but today’s not that day, especially as we are awaiting more information about the situation,” he said.