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Many of young school victims were shot multiple times

11:01 PM, Dec 15, 2012   |    comments
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Yamiche Alcindor, Laura Petrecca, Gary Srauss and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
NEWTOWN, Conn. - Many of the young elementary school victims killed Friday during a shooting spree were shot multiple times at close range by a rifle, the state's chief medical examiner says.

Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, Connecticut's long-time chief medical examiner, said most of the 20 children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School early Friday morning were first-graders. Among seven he personally examined, all had three to 11 bullet wounds. "All of the wounds I know of were caused by a rifle,'' he said.

"I've been at this for a third of a century,'' Carver said. "This is probably the worst I've seen or the worst any of my colleagues have seen. This was a very devastating set of injuries."

The shooting suspect, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, committed suicide following the shootings. Two semi-automatic handguns were found near his body. Authorities said they had found a .223-caliber assault rifle in a car, but had not previously disclosed a rifle had been used in the shootings. The medical examiner's office had wrapped up their examinations of the 26 and planned to examine Adam Lanza's body and that of his mother, Nancy, on Sunday. Nancy Lanza was found dead at her Newton home on Friday. It's believed she was killed by Lanza before he shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School.

A law enforcement official who was not authorized to speak publicly also told USA TODAY that more weapons were located at the Newtown home where Lanza's mother was found dead.

State Police Lt. Paul Vance said at a news briefing that authorities also have uncovered evidence at the Sandy Hook school and the Lanza home.

After Lanza entered Sandy Hook at about 9:30 a.m., he shot and killed 20 young children and six adults, including teachers and school administrators.

NBC reported Saturday that Adam Lanza may have had a confrontation with someone at Sandy Hook Elementary days before the shooting. But Vance told Fox News that he had no information that a confrontation took place. As far as a motive for the slaying? "I don't have definitive information we're ready to publicize at this point,'' Vance said.

The official said investigators were visiting surrounding gun dealers to determine whether Lanza had sought to buy weapons in advance of the massacre.

Lanza was found dead inside the school of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Two semi-automatic handguns were found near his body and a .223 assault rifle was found in a car. Those weapons were bought and registered in Nancy Lanza's name. The official didn't specify the types of additional weapons found at the home.

At an earlier morning briefing, Vance would not say if investigators had found any notes or writings indicating Lanza's motive. "We're not going to name the evidence,'' he said. What they've found is "good evidence."

"We're hopeful that it will paint a complete picture," he said. Police have established a timeline of events but are not ready to release it. Victims' names will be released once the medical examiner is finished identifying the bodies, Vance didn't say when that would happen. Detectives are still working at the crime scene. "It's going to be a long, painstaking process," Vance said.

Vance said family members have asked media to respect their privacy. "This is an extremely heartbreaking thing for them to endure," he said. State Troopers have been assigned to stand outside the homes of victims' families to protect their privacy, he said. A crisis intervention team from Yale University has been set up for people in town who may need to talk to someone, Vance said.

At church vigils Friday night and gatherings around Newtown into early Saturday, there was a collective cry of unbelief and grieving. Around town, flags flew at half mast. On Church Hill Road, which leads into Sandy Hook, a large sheet hung on the side of a bridge. The blue lettering read "We (heart) you Sandy Hook Elementary."

At the Honan Funeral Home, Newtown's only funeral home, victims' families were preparing burials.

"We are in the process of meeting with families," said funeral director Daniel Honan.

Separately, members of the Connecticut Funeral Director's Association were meeting to determine how they can help Honan and families of victims, said the association's spokeswoman Laura Soll.

Declan Procaccini said Saturday he was bracing himself for the release of the names of those who died.

"It's just something that right now I can't even imagine," he told CNN.

He said his daughter was in a reading class with other children and two teachers when the shooting started. They locked themselves in a bathroom until police banged on the door and led them through the school -- and the bloody scene -- to safety.

What happened on Friday "is lunacy," said local resident Shannon Doherty. "It's nuts, it's totally nuts."

The town of 27,000 is so close that he is sure he's going to know the victims. "We're going to know these kids," he said.

He and his wife Tamara aren't sure what to say to their own kids, a 10-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl. "What do you tell them?" he asked.

Laura and Nick Phelps have a 6-year-old boy who is a first-grader and a daughter in the third grade. Both got out safely. Laura Phelps told CNN her son "said he saw people on the floor, sleeping." They said their son doesn't seem to understand what happened, while their daughter is more upset.

"They all heard and saw things children shouldn't see," Laura Phelps said. "It's unspeakable. It's like reaching into your insides and pulling them out. ... It's something we'll get through, but I don't think it's something we'll ever get over."

After receiving word of the shooting, Tracy Hoekenga, said she was paralyzed with fear for her two boys, fourth-grader C.J. and second-grader Matthew. "I couldn't breathe. It's indescribable. For a half an hour, 45 minutes, I had no idea if my kids were OK," she said.

The nightmare began on Friday when Adam Lanza drove his mother's car through 300-year-old Newtown to Sandy Hook, where teacher Theodore Varga and other fourth-grade instructors were meeting; the glow remaining from a Thursday-night fourth-grade concert.

"It was a lovely day," Varga said. "Everybody was joyful and cheerful. We were ending the week on a high note."

Then, gunshots rang out. "I can't even remember how many," Varga said.

The incident -- among 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, Ore., shopping mall that left two dead and one wounded.

Ryan Lanza, the suspect's 24-year-old brother, was questioned Friday by law enforcement in Hoboken, N.J. He told police that Adam was believed to suffer from a personality disorder and that he had not been in touch with his brother since about 2010.

Restaurant owner Mark Tambascio, a family friend, said Nancy Lanza told him recently that Adam had Asperger syndrome, that he was "getting out of control and that she might need special help for him."

Adam Lanza's aunt said her nephew was raised by kind, nurturing parents who would not have hesitated to seek mental help for him if he needed it, the Associated Press reported.

Marsha Lanza, of Crystal Lake, Ill., told the AP she was close with Nancy Lanza, and sent her a message on Facebook on Friday morning asking how she was doing. Nancy Lanza never responded.

Marsha Lanza described Nancy Lanza as a good mother and kind-hearted.

If her son had needed counseling, "Nancy wasn't one to deny reality," she said.

Witnesses told the AP that during the shooting, Lanza didn't utter a word.

Police said the shootings took place in two rooms in one section of the school building, including a kindergarten classroom.

Varga said he was in a meeting with other teachers when he heard the gunfire, but there was no lock on the door.

He said someone turned on the public address system so that "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."

As the shooting erupted, quick-thinking teachers and faculty members hid some students in closets and bathrooms, while others rounded up students and spirited them out of the building.

"A lot of children are alive today because of actions the teacher took," Dr. Janet Robinson, superintendent of the Newton Public School District, told CNN.

Vance said the murder scene was so gruesome that first responders, including tactical squad police, were provided counseling later in the day. "This was a tragic, horrific scene they encountered,'' he said.

Vance said 18 of the children and six adults died at the school. Two other children were pronounced dead after they were taken to local hospitals. One wounded victim was hospitalized.

In Washington on Friday, a visibly shaken President Obama, wiping away tears, said he was "heartbroken."

"These were "beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 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 a residential, wooded neighborhood about 60 miles northeast of New York City. The school, which serves kindergartners to fourth-graders, has 39 teachers and nearly 700 students. A reverse 911 call went out to parents warning of an incident, shaking the quiet, middle and upper-middle class community of 27,000 to its core.

"This is the most tragic thing we've ever encountered,'' said Newtown Police Lt. George Sinko. "We have to think about the families right now."

Sandy Hook Elementary Principal Dawn Hochsprung is one of the victims who died, said Gerald Stomski, first selectman of Woodbury, Conn. He said police told him Hochsprung died in the attack.

He says she was a principal in Woodbury until a few years ago. He says residents were mourning her death.

Stomski says she had "an extremely likable style."

Hochsprung had been principal at Sandy Hook y since 2010. She frequently tweeted photos from her job and wrote upbeat tweets about what was going on at the school.

More hauntingly, several publications report she wrote a letter before the school year outlining new safety measures including locked doors during school hours, beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Hundreds of Newtown resident met Friday night in three different churches to remember the victims, offering hugs, tears and words of kindness to their fellow townspeople.

Hundreds packed the St. Rose of Lima church in Newtown, while hundreds more spilled outside. Some held hands in circles and offered prayers. Others lit candles and sang Silent Night.

On Friday evening, Ray Ruzek, owner of Heaven ice cream shop in Sandy Hook, attached a handwritten sign next to store sign posted outside his business. It said "Come pray 7 pm."

He has hosted a Christian prayer group at the shop on Friday nights since October, but he doesn't usually hang such a sign. But last night was different.

He knew others in the community would need additional support in the wake of a local shooting. And he wanted to make sure that his friends and neighbors knew that his group could be a resource for them.

"Tonight is obviously special to us because of the tragedy," he said.

Contributing: Wendy Koch, Gary Stoller; Associated Press.


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