NEWTOWN – At least 26 people, including 20 children from 5 to 10 years old, were killed in a rampage in an elementary school on Friday, December 15, in one of the worst shootings in US history.
"Our hearts are broken today," President Barack Obama said in an emotional televised address cited by Reuters.
A heavily-armed gunman stormed into the Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 children and six adults.
The gunman killed his mother at home and then went to the school, killing 20 students at a classroom, before shooting five other adults and killing himself.
One other person was shot at the school and survived.
“We were in the gym, and I heard really loud bangs,” a 9-year-old boy told The New York Times as he stood shivering and weeping outside the school with his father’s arms 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.”
Police identified the attacker, who killed himself, as Adam Lanza, 20.
Adam's brother Ryan Lanza was "either in custody or being questioned" at this hour, a law enforcement source told Reuters.
Police swarmed the scene and locked down the school, rushing children to safety, some of them bloodied.
Distraught parents converged, frantically searching for their daughters and sons. Neighbors and friends wandered in shock, looking for information.
"It's hard to believe that anything like this could happen in this town," resident Peter Alpi, 70, told Reuters as he fought back tears.
"It's a very quiet town. Maybe it's too quiet."
The shooting rampage has left many Americans in a state of shock.
"It was horrendous," parent Brenda Lebinski, who rushed to the school where her daughter is in the third grade, told Reuters.
"Everyone was in hysterics - parents, students. There were kids coming out of the school bloodied. I don't know if they were shot, but they were 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.
Lebinski, who is friends with the mother who was at the school, said the principal was "severely injured."
Lebinski's daughter's teacher "immediately locked the door to the classroom and put all the kids in the corner of the room."
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!'" Murphy said.
"It doesn't seem like it can be really happening. I feel like I'm in shock."
A girl interviewed by NBC Connecticut described hearing seven loud "booms" while she was in gym class. Other children began crying and teachers moved the students to a nearby 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 toll exceeds that of one of the most notorious US school shootings, the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where two teenagers killed 13 students and staff before killing themselves.
"As a country, we have been through this too many times," Obama said, ticking off a list of recent shootings.
"We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," Obama said in apparent reference to the influence of the National Rifle Association over members of Congress.
The United States has experienced a number of mass shooting rampages this year, most recently in Oregon, where a gunman opened fire at a shopping mall on Tuesday, killing two people and then himself.
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 US history.