Americans are again mourning and grappling with the question, ‘Why?’ after a gunman shot and killed multiple children at an elementary school in Connecticut on Friday. Twenty-eight were killed–20 of them children–at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., according to law enforcement officials.
It will likely rank as the nation’s second deadliest shooting at a school, following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, in which 32 people were killed. In 1999, two students killed 13 people and themselves at Columbine High School in Colorado, an incident that shocked the nation and prompted many schools to adopt new safety protocols.
The shooter was identified as Adam Lanza, 20, according to CBS News. Lanza apparently walked into the school carrying multiple weapons, and shot 20 children in two classrooms. He then fired at several other adults in the school, including the principal, who was killed. The shooter reportedly shot and killed himself inside the school. Police found the body of his mother at a house in town, and attributed her death to Lanza as well, according to news reports.
“It was horrendous,” parent Brenda Lebinski, who rushed to the school where her daughter is in the third grade, told Reuters. “Everyone was in hysterics – parents, students. There were kids coming out of the school bloodied. I don’t know if they were shot, but they were bloodied.”
Governor Bob McDonnell, of Virginia, was among many public officials expressing their condolences yesterday. “Unfortunately, Virginia has our own painful memories of the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007. Those memories will never fade, and we continue to grieve for all those lost on that April day,” he said. “We are all too aware of the impact that events like this can have on a community.”
The president was preparing to address the nation this afternoon. The Hechinger Report will publish reactions and updates as the day goes on.
The president gave an emotional speech in reaction to the shooting—pausing to gather himself and wipe tears from his eyes before saying that most of the dead were between the ages of five and 10.
“I know there’s not a parent in American who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do…Our hearts are broken today,” he said. “This evening we’ll do what every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter.”
He also said that “as a country we have been through this too many times,” and suggested lawmakers would have to come together to come up with policy to prevent future shootings.
The shooting is likely to revive a debate about gun control. The president has largely avoided the topic during his tenure as president. During the presidential campaign, a voter confronted the president and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, during a town hall debate about whether they support renewing a ban on assault weapons.
At the time, the president said he supports a ban—although he wasn’t necessarily enthusiastic about it. “Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced,” he said. “But part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence, because frankly, in my hometown of Chicago, there’s an awful lot of violence, and they’re not using AK-47s, they’re using cheap handguns.”
Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut addressed reporters this afternoon in an outdoor news conference. “You can never be prepared for this kind of incident,” he said during his brief remarks. “What has transpired in that school building will leave a mark on this community.”
Paul Vance, of the Connecticut State Police, said that in addition to the 18 children who were pronounced dead at the school, two others died on the way to local hospitals. Another adult was found dead elsewhere, not in the school, but was believed to be a victim of the same shooter, bringing the total number of victims to 28. Vance said the shooting had been confined to two rooms in the school. “It’s a tragic scene,” he said.
The police said they were still reconstructing what happened, and did not offer many details, but an eye witness, who was allowed to enter the area because she’s a nurse, described the scene at Sandy Hook this morning to CBS News.
“When I got there, there was a lot of parents pulling in at the same time. I just ran up and the police where already there. They let me go because I told them I was a nurse. At the time, we thought we might have some victims that needed to be worked on and resuscitated.
“The people that were shot that were able to get help were taken out immediately so before I got there. I didn’t see anyone taken out in an ambulance. And then there was just a long wait. I don’t know, I kind of lost track of time but maybe like a two hour wait. We just saw SWAT teams go in and the canine unit go in and police surrounding the place and going into the woods, but nobody coming out.
“They wouldn’t even let us in the building. All I can say is, one of the cops said it was the worst thing he had seen in his entire career. But it was when they told the parents. All these parents were waiting for their children to come out, they thought that they were still alive. There was 20 parents that were just told their children were dead. It was awful.”
Children who survived the shooting have appeared on several television stations describing what they saw. One boy spoke to a CBS reporter about hearing bullets before a teacher grabbed him and pulled him into a classroom. But some experts and journalists are questioning whether interviewing children in this kind of traumatic scenario is necessary and ethical. “What little bit of detail these ‘witnesses’ have to offer doesn’t seem to be worth the insensitive nature of the questioning,” writes Rebecca Greenfield on the Atlantic‘s website.
An unidentified nine-year-old told the New York Times: “We were in the gym, and I heard really loud bangs,” he said. “We thought that someone was knocking something over. And we heard yelling, and we heard gunshots. We heard lots of gunshots. We heard someone say, ‘Put your hands up.’ I heard, ‘Don’t shoot.’
(This story has been updated to reflect new information as of Monday, December 17.)