Acts of bravery amid unspeakable loss

  • Article by: JAMES BARRON , New York Times
  • Updated: December 16, 2012 - 5:42 AM

Official says gunman forced way into school with a semi-automatic rifle.

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Shop owner Tamara Doherty, paces outside her store just down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn.

Photo: David Goldman, Associated Press

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The gunman in the Connecticut shooting blasted his way into the elementary school and then sprayed the children with bullets, first from a distance and then at close range, hitting some of them as many as 11 times, as he fired a semi-automatic rifle loaded with ammunition designed for maximum damage, officials said Saturday as they provided grim new details of the massacre.

The state'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, Conn., had been struck more than once in the fusillade. He called it "the worst thing I've ever seen."

He said their wounds were "all over, all over."

"This is a very devastating set of injuries," he said at a briefing in Newtown. When he was asked if they had suffered after they were hit, he said, "Not for very long."

The disclosures came as the police released the victims' names. They ranged in age from 6 to 56.

The children -- 12 girls and eight boys -- were all first-graders, 6 or 7 years old. One little girl had just turned 7 on Tuesday. All of the adults were women.

The White House said President Obama would visit Newtown on Sunday evening to meet with victims' families and thank first responders. He is also scheduled to speak at an interfaith vigil at 7 p.m.

On Saturday, as families began to claim the bodies of loved ones, some sought privacy. Others spoke out. Robbie Parker, whose daughter Emilie, 6, 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."

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 Newtown school superintendent said the principal and the school psychologist had been shot as they tried to tackle the gunman "in order to protect her students."

That was just one act of bravery. Superintendent Janet Robinson said teachers and staff members who were caught up in the nation's second-deadliest school shooting had managed to save students' lives with "incredible acts of heroism." She 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.

But it was not 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.

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 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 Lanza, and had collected "some very good evidence."

But it was unclear why Lanza had gone on the attack. 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 Lanza's mother and the school, in contrast to accounts from officials Friday that said she had worked there.

Carver said it appeared that all of the children had been killed by a "long rifle" that Adam Lanza was carrying; 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 Lanza had fired, Carver said he did not have an exact count. "There were lots of them," he said.

He 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 performed seven.

"This is probably the worst I have seen or the worst that I know of any of my colleagues having seen," said Carver, 60, who has been chief medical examiner since 1989.

He said that only Lanza and his first victim -- his mother, Nancy Lanza -- remained to be autopsied. He said he would do those postmortems Sunday.

Officials said the killing spree began early Friday at the house where Lanza had lived with his mother, Nancy. There, he shot her in the face, the authorities said. Then, he climbed into her car for the short drive to the school. Outfitted in combat gear, Lanza apparently defeated the intercom system. This contradicted earlier reports that he had been recognized and allowed to enter. "He was not voluntarily let into the school at all," Vance said. "He forced his way in."

His 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.

The dispatchers kept up a running account of the drama. "The individual I have on the phone indicates continuing to hear what he believes to be gunfire," one dispatcher said.

Another dispatcher reported that the "shooting appears to have stopped." "What is the number of ambulances you will require?" a dispatcher asked.

The answer hinted at the unthinkable scope: "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 silent in the school when officers rushed in with their rifles drawn. There were the dead or dying in one section of the building, while elsewhere, those who had eluded the bullets were under orders from their teachers to remain quiet in their hiding places.

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