A gunman killed 26 people, 20 of them children between the ages of 5 and 10, in a shooting on Friday morning at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., about 65 miles northeast of New York City, the authorities said.
The gunman, who was believed to be in his 20s, walked into a classroom where his mother was a teacher. He shot and killed her and then shot 18 students in the classroom. He also shot five other adults, and then killed himself inside the school. Another body related to the shooting was at another scene, the authorities said, declining to provide more specifics.
A law enforcement official identified the shooter as Adam Lanza and that a brother, Ryan Lanza, had been questioned.
The shooting ranks among the worst in recent U.S. history.
"The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old," a visibly distraught President Barack Obama said during a nationally televised address.
After pausing to compose himself for perhaps five long seconds, Obama said, "They had their entire lives ahead of them: birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own."
Then the president wiped the corner of his eye.
Some witnesses described a harrowing scene inside the school with the sounds of gunfire followed by sounds of screams.
A 9-year-old boy who is a student at the school said he was in the gym when the shooting erupted.
"We were in the gym, and I heard really loud bangs," said the boy, as he stood shivering and weeping outside the school with his father 's arm draped around him. "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.' We had to go into the closet in the gym. Then someone came and told us to run down the hallway. There were police at every door, there were lots of people crying and screaming."
Another student at the school told an NBC affiliate in Connecticut: "I was in the gym and I heard like seven loud booms, and the gym teachers told us to go in the corner and we huddled. We all heard these booming noises, and we started crying. So the gym teachers told us to go into the office where no one could find us. Then a police officer told us to run outside."
State police said the Newtown police called them shortly after 9:30 a.m., according to Lt. J. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police.
"On- and off-duty troopers responded to the school and with Newtown police immediately upon arrival entered the school and began an active shooter search," Vance said.
Eighteen of the students were pronounced dead at the school and two others were taken to hospitals where they were declared dead.
Obama was briefed on the shooting at 10:30 a.m., the White House said.
"We've endured too many of these tragedies in these past few years and each time I learn the news I react not as a president but as anyone else would as a parent and that was especially true today," Obama said on Friday afternoon. "I know there's not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do."
Danbury Hospital said it was treating three patients from the shooting scene, according to its Facebook page. The hospital, which is not far from the elementary school, said it was on lockdown.
At Danbury Hospital, stunned-looking personnel in white coats looked shaken as they gathered in small groups talking about the shooting. In a corner near the gift shop, one woman comforted a weeping colleague.
In the coffee shop, a few customers finished their sandwiches at the lunch counter and the cashier wiped tears from her eyes as she rang up customers.
In a mostly empty fifth floor waiting room, three women watched local coverage of the tragedy, shaking their heads at each new horrifying detail.
A nurse at the hospital, Maureen Kerins, lives close to the school and after learning of the shooting from the television hurried to the school to see if she could help. "I stood outside waiting to go in, but a police officer came out and said they didn't need any nurses so I knew it wasn't good," Kerins said.
Governor Dannel P Malloy arrived at the scene of the shooting on Friday afternoon.
The school, located among wooded hills and suburban tracts in Fairfield County, 12 miles east of Danbury, serves kindergarten through fourth grade. The school has about 700 students.
"It's just a little country school," said Robert Place, 65, as he stood near the scene. "The look is very '50s or '60s. One floor. It's always had a good reputation. People come to Newtown for the schools."
The school's principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was reportedly one of those shot. But at the home of her daughter Cristina Hassinger, in Oakville, Conn., the family was still awaiting any news of her fate.
"We're looking for any hope," said Ryan Hassinger, the son-in-law of the principal. "If she's in the hospital, any chance is better."
He said that his wife, Cristina, 28, and "her sister are there now," with Connecticut state troopers, and that he and other relatives were awaiting word on any news.
"I looked on Twitter and it says that she is passed," Hassinger said. But, he added, the family was, "just waiting."
A photograph published by a local newspaper, The Newtown Bee, showed a line of children being escorted out of the school with some of the children crying.
Next door to the school in front of a senior center, a 20-year-old woman was with her 4-year-old sister who was in the school at the time of the shooting. The older woman came to pick up her younger sister along with their mother. The 4-year-old girl had her arms and legs wrapped around her older sister.
When a reporter asked the 20-year-old woman what the little girl knew of what had happened, the woman said, "Absolutely nothing, and we don't plan to tell her anything."
© 2012, The New York Times News Service