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NEWTOWN, Conn. — Twenty schoolchildren were slaughtered by a heavily armed gunman who opened fire at a suburban elementary school in Connecticut on Friday, killing at least 28 people, including himself, in the one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
The 20-year-old gunman, who law enforcement sources identified as Adam Lanza, fired what witnesses described as dozens of shots at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which serves children from ages 5 to 10.
Authorities found 18 children and seven adults, including the gunman, dead at the school, and two children were pronounced dead later after being taken to a hospital. Another adult was found dead at a related crime scene in Newtown, bringing the toll to 28, state police Lt. Paul Vance said.
As reports of the shooting spread, panicked parents rushed to the school searching for their children as students covered in blood were being carried out of the building.
President Barack Obama, wiping away tears and pausing to collect his emotions in an address to the nation, mourned the “beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old” who were killed.
“Our hearts are broken today, for the parents, and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children and for the families of the adults who were lost,” Obama said, his voice cracking.
“Evil visited this community today,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy told reporters.
The New York Times reported that the gunman walked into a classroom where his mother was a teacher, shot his mother and then 20 students, most in the same classroom, before shooting five other adults and killing himself. One other person was shot at the school and survived, the Times said.
Other media reports said the gunman’s mother was found dead at a house nearby.
Adam Lanza’s brother Ryan Lanza was “either in custody or being questioned,” a law enforcement source said.
The gunman was dead inside the school, Vance said. The Times reported he used a Sig Sauer and a Glock, both handguns, and said police also found at the scene a Bushmaster .223 M4 carbine that they believe belonged to him.
The holiday season tragedy was the second shooting rampage in the United States this week, the latest in a series of mass killings this year, and was certain to revive a debate about U.S. gun laws.
Chaos struck as children gathered in their classrooms for morning meetings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, a wealthy, wooded suburb of 27,000 in Fairfield County, about 80 miles northeast of New York City.
Images from the scene showed children being led away in single file, each child’s hands clutching the shoulders of the one in front. Police wearing body armor and carrying rifles swarmed the scene and locked down the school.
Distraught parents converged, frantically searching for their daughters and sons. Neighbors and friends wandered in shock, looking for information.
“We can’t believe this,” said Kinga Walsh, 47, a mother of four who was Christmas shopping when she heard there had been a shooting at the school. “Newtown is a quiet, nice place. It’s a small, tight-knit community.”
Nearly 12 hours later, the bodies of the dead children, adults and gunman remained in the school awaiting identification.
French President Francois Hollande, in an open letter to Obama, said he was “horrified” by the shootings. British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “It is heartbreaking to think of those who have had their children robbed from them at such a young age, when they had so much life ahead of them.”
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his condolences and called the targeting of children “heinous and unthinkable.”
Vance said the shootings took place in two rooms of Sandy Hook Elementary. Witnesses reported hearing dozens of shots; some said as many as 100 rounds.
“It was horrendous,” said parent Brenda Lebinski, who rushed to the school where her daughter is in the third grade. “Everyone was in hysterics — parents, students. There were kids coming out of the school bloodied.”
Lebinski said a mother who was at the school during the shooting told her a “masked man” entered the principal’s office and may have shot the principal.
Melissa Murphy, who lives near the school, monitored events on a police scanner.
“I kept hearing them call for the mass casualty kit and scream, ‘Send everybody! Send everybody!’” she said. “It doesn’t seem like it can be really happening. I feel like I’m in shock.”
The toll exceeded that of one of the most notorious U.S. school shootings, the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where two teenagers killed 13 students and staff before killing themselves.
A girl described to NBC Connecticut hearing seven loud “booms” while she was in gym class. Other children began crying and teachers moved the students to an office, she said.
“A police officer came in and told us to run outside and so we did,” the unidentified girl said on camera.
The United States has seen a number of shooting rampages this year, most recently in Oregon, where a gunman killed two people and then himself at a shopping mall on Tuesday.
The deadliest came in July at a midnight screening of a Batman film in Colorado that killed 12 people and wounded 58.
In 2007, 32 people were killed at Virginia Tech university in the deadliest act of criminal gun violence in U.S. history.