Over 26 from the Sandy Hook Elementary School lost their lives on Friday, most of them kids aged 5-10. Teachers at the school are said to have done their best to protect students from the rampaging gunman.
Friday began as a relatively normal day for a school in Newtown, CT, with around 600 students filling in the classes and the school’s headmistress sitting down for a meeting with her colleagues.
At around 9:40 am the meeting was disrupted with a loud “pop pop pop” from the hall. Headmistress Dawn Hochsprung, her deputy and the school’s psychologist darted out to see what was going on. Only the vice principal came back – shot in the leg – and told the rest to call 911.
The gunman made his way quickly, witnesses would later tell the press, firing most of his shots in what is believed to be a kindergarten class.
Hearing the shots, music teacher Maryrose Kristopik grabbed her 15 pupils and barricaded them in a closet. But in a moment of heart pounding terror the gunman found their hiding place.
“The shooter kept banging on the door screaming: "Let me in! Let me in!" but he didn't get in,” said the teacher, quoted by The Daily Mail. The saved kids’ parents have already hailed the woman a “hero.”
Robert Licata said his six-year-old son was in class when the gunman burst in and shot the teacher.
“That's when my son grabbed a bunch of his friends and ran out the door,” he said. “He was very brave. He waited for his friends.”
The shooter didn't say a word, Licata added.
The gunman appears to be a son of Nancy Lanza who was initially reported to be a teacher at the school. But later media interviews brought her relation to the school under question. Local media now suggest that the suspected shooter first killed his mother at their home and then went on rampage in the school where he primarily targeted two classrooms.
The total death toll in Connecticut stands at 28, police say. This includes 20 children and six adults killed at the school, the suspected attacker and an adult victim – reportedly his mother – at the second scene.
Guns used in the shooting were legally purchased and registered to the suspected shooter's mother, law enforcement officials told NBC News.
In the school gym, the lesson was interrupted by screaming and a loud noise outside.
“Then the gym teachers immediately gathered the children in a corner and kept them safe in a corner,” says Melissa Makris, whose son Philip, 10, was in the gym with other fourth-graders.
“He said the policeman came in and helped them get out of the building and told them to run,” Makris said. “And they ran to the firehouse.”
Police and SWAT teams responded to the call immediately. Taking out the kids to safety they told them to close their eyes. Early pictures from the scene, such as the one taken by The Newtown Bee newspaper, showed a group of children – some crying, others looking terrified – being escorted through a parking lot in a line, hands on each other's shoulders.
"Everyone was just traumatized," parents said, some kids emerged covered in victims’ blood, looking thoroughly shaken. Teachers were seen crying as they came out of the building.
All the injured were transported to Danbury Hospital which admitted at least three patients.
Soon, panicked parents were flooding the school, which is just 60 miles northeast of New York City, looking for their children. By 13:30 pm Gov. Dan Malloy was meeting with families of those killed.
The reasons behind the rampage are yet to be discovered as police have received multiple search warrants to continue their investigation. It’s been reported the suspected gunman also killed his father and brother at a second scene before going to the elementary school.
At the White House, President Barack Obama had to pause commenting on the incident to keep his composure as looked to get teary eyed.
"They had their entire lives ahead of them – birthdays, graduations, wedding, kids of their own," Obama said about the victims. "Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children."
The survivors were “robbed of their innocence,” he added pledging to prevent such tragedies occurring again.
The Sandy Hook incident, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, is the deadliest elementary school shooting in US history and second-worst massacre after Virginia Tech University, where 32 people were killed in 2007.