NEWTOWN, Conn. -- A lone gunman killed 27 people at an elementary school here, including his mother and at least 18 children, in a terrifying early Friday morning shooting spree that rocked this genteel community.
The Associated Press and local media reported the shooter, a 24-year-old male identified by CNN as Ryan Lanza, was also dead inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. At least three weapons were recovered at the scene, including a .223-caliber assault rifle and two semi-automatic handguns.
A law enforcement official said the Nancy Lanza, the shooter's mother and kindergarten teacher at the school, was among the victims killed. Mayor Mark Boughton said several wounded victims had been taken to local hospitals.
Groups of frightenedstudents - some crying, some holding hands - were escorted from the school by teachers. Some witnesses reported of up to 100 shots. There were unconfirmed reports that the assailant, dressed in military style assault gear, shot most of the victims in a kindergarten classroom.
State Police Lt. Paul Vance said there were "several fatalities," but would not confirm the number of victims until relatives had been notified. Several law enforcement agencies are working to determine "exactly what happened,'' Vance said.
The incident - which would be one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history - is the latest in a series of mass shootings in the U.S. this year, including Tuesday's assault by a lone gunman at a Portland, OR., shopping mall that left two dead and one wounded.
Police later raided a home in the Sandy Hook part of Newtown, owned by Lanza's parents, Nancy and Peter Lanza. There were unconfirmed reports that
A visbly shaken President Obama, wiping away tears, said he was "heartbroken."
"These were "beautiful little kids between the ages of five and 10 years old,'' Obama said. "They had their entire lives ahead of them. Birthdays. Graduations. Weddings. Kids of their own."
Sandy Hook is in residential, wooded neighborhood about 60 miles northeast of New York City. It has has 39 teachers and about 650 students. A reverse 911 call went out to parents warning of an incident, shaking the quiet, middle and upper-middle class community to its core.
Fourth-grader Bear Nikitchyuk was heading back to his classroom when he heard someone kicking a door. "I looked behind me and all I saw was smoke and I smelled smoke. I heard shots fired. The second grade teacher grabbed me and pulled me into her room."
The unidentified teacher locked the door and huddled about 20 kids in cubbie closets until police banged on the door. The teacher first balked at letting the police in until she was convinced they were police. The children eventually exited out the school's back door, through playground and walked to a nearby firehouse used as a staging area for fleeing kids and faculty.
Terese Lestik was relieved to find her five year old daughter, Eva, unharmed.
"I heard a boom-boom,'' Eva said of the gunshots she heard earlier.
"I'm horrified,'' said Terese Lestik. "I just pray for whoever is hurt."
Alexis Wasik, a third-grader at the school, said police were checking everybody inside the school before they were escorted to the firehouse. She said she heard shots and saw her former nursery school teacher being taken out of the building on a stretcher, but didn't know if the woman had been shot.
"We had to walk with a partner," said Wasik, 8. One child leaving the school said that there was shattered glass everywhere. A police officer ran into the classroom and told them to run outside and keep going until the reach the firehouse, The Hartford Courant reported.
Counselors and crisis response staff from state mental health services, children and family services, public health and the Red Cross are working with federal and local officials on the scene, Gov. Dan Malloy's office said.
Children are likely to be traumatized, says Dr. Victor Fornari, director of Child/Adolescent Psychiatry at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, NY. Schools are supposed to be safe, nurturing environment. The shooting shatters that belief. Listening to children and trying to be supportive and reassuring can be helpful, Fornari says.
James Alan Fox of Northeastern University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice said Friday['s incident seems reminiscent of several from the late 1980s involving shooting rampages at schools.
Fox couldn't speak to the specifics of the Connecticut case, but said, "If someone is interested in punishing society where it's most vulnerable, they know that a school is a place where lots of young, innocent children, our most cherished members of society, are congregated and under their gun -- literally."
Children are often seen as "easy targets to get even with society - or maybe it was the school. We don't know what the primary target was, and the primary motive."
Still, over the past few years, shootings in K-12 schools have become increasingly rare. After reaching a high of 63 deaths in the 2006-2007 school year, the number of people killed in "school-associated" incidents dropped to 33 last year - lowest in two decades, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
While a few dozen children are killed each year in school, statistically speaking it remains the safest place a child will likely ever be, with the lowest chance of being killed. "When you consider the fact that there are over 50 million school children in America, the chances are over one in two million, not a high probability," said Fox. "And most cases that do occur are in high schools and less so in middle schools -- and hardly ever in elementary schools."