NEWTOWN, Connecticut – The victims of the U.S. school shooting were shot multiple times by semiautomatic rifle, the medical examiner said Saturday, and he called the injuries “devastating.”
Police began releasing the identities of the 26 dead to a grieving community that had come to dread the coming Christmas holiday. All of the 20 children killed were 6 or 7 years old.
“My daughter would be one of the first ones giving her support to the victims,” said a tearful Robbie Parker, the father of victim Emilie Parker, age 6, as families started coming forward.
“She was the kind of person who could just light up a room.” He expressed sympathy for other families, including that of the shooter.
Police said they had found “very good evidence” they hoped would answer questions about the motives of the 20-year-old gunman, described as brilliant but remote, who forced his way into the school in one of the world’s worst mass shootings. Witnesses said the gunman, Adam Lanza, didn’t say a word and later killed himself.
The medical examiner, Dr. H. Wayne Carver, said he examined seven of the children killed, and two had been shot at close range. When asked how many bullets were fired, he said, “I’m lucky if I can tell you how many I found.”
Townspeople took down Christmas decorations and sang “Silent Night” at memorials. World reaction was swift and emotional, any many immediately thought of Dunblane — a 1996 shooting in that small Scottish town which killed 16 small children and prompted a campaign that ultimately led to tighter gun controls.
Pressure to take similar action built on President Barack Obama, whose comments on the tragedy were one of the most outwardly emotional moments of his presidency. He has promised “meaningful action” on the issue of mass shootings, “regardless of the politics,” but national debates after past shootings have led to little change.
Stunned residents and exhausted officials continued Saturday to fill in the details of the attack. Town education officials said the well-liked principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was killed while lunging at the gunman as she tried to overtake him.
Police said the shooter had no connection to the school in Newtown, a small and picturesque New England community about 60 miles (95 kilometers) northeast of New York City. In the tightly knit town, nearly everyone seemed to know someone who died.
Connecticut state police Lt. Paul Vance told reporters Saturday that investigators had found “very good evidence” about the gunman, but another law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that investigators had found no note or manifesto of the sort they have come to expect after murderous rampages.
Just one person, a woman who worked at the school, was shot and survived — an unusually small number in a mass shooting — and Vance said her comments would be “instrumental.”
A law enforcement official said a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both pistols, and a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle were found in the school and a fourth weapon was found outside the school.
The official was not authorized to discuss information with reporters and spoke on condition of anonymity. Investigators were talking with state gun dealers and gun ranges.
Authorities said Lanza had no criminal history; it was not clear whether he had a job. Lanza was believed to have suffered from a personality disorder, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Lanza had attended Newtown High School, and several news clippings from recent years mention his name among the honor roll students.
On Friday morning, Lanza shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their home, drove to the school in her car and shot up two classrooms, law enforcement officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A custodian ran through the halls, warning of a gunman, and someone switched on the intercom, perhaps saving many lives by letting them hear the chaos in the school office, a teacher said.
Teachers locked their doors and ordered children to huddle in a corner or hide in closets as shots echoed through the building.
The gunman’s aunt Marsha Lanza said her nephew was raised by kind, nurturing parents who would not have hesitated to seek mental help for him if he needed it.
“Nancy wasn’t one to deny reality,” Marsha Lanza said, adding her husband had seen Adam as recently as June and recalled nothing out of the ordinary.
Olivia DeVivo recalled that Adam Lanza always came to school carrying a briefcase and wearing his shirt buttoned all the way up. “He was very different and very shy and didn’t make an effort to interact with anybody,” she said.
“You had yourself a very scared young boy who was very nervous around people,” said Richard Novia, who was adviser to the school’s Tech Club, of which Lanza was a member.
Novia said Lanza also had a strange bodily condition: “If that boy would’ve burned himself, he would not have known it or felt it physically.”
When people approached Lanza in the hallways, he would press himself against the wall or walk in a different direction, clutching his black case “like an 8-year-old who refuses to give up his teddy bear,” said Novia.
Even so, Novia said his main concern was that Lanza might become a target for teasing or abuse, not that he might become a threat.
“Somewhere along in the last four years there were significant changes that led to what has happened Friday morning,” Novia said. “I could never have foreseen him doing that.”
On Friday night, just 10 days before Christmas Eve, people held hands, lit candles and sang.
“Next week is going to be horrible,” said the town’s legislative council chairman, Jeff Capeci, thinking about the string of funerals the town will face. “Horrible, and the week leading into Christmas.”
Sandy Hook Elementary will be closed next week — some parents can’t even conceive of sending their children back, Board of Education chairwoman Debbie Leidlein said.
Asked whether the town would recover, Maryann Jacob, a clerk in the school library who took cover in a storage room with 18 fourth-graders during the shooting rampage, said, “We have to. We have a lot of children left.”