Newtown, Connecticut (CNN) — Dressed in black fatigues and a military vest, a heavily armed man walked into a Connecticut elementary school Friday and interrupted the start of a typical school day, opening fire on two classrooms.
Within minutes, 26 people were dead — 20 of them children. Among the six adults killed were Dawn Hochsprung, the school’s beloved principal, and school psychologist Mary Sherlach.
The shooter, identified by three law enforcement officials as Adam Lanza, was also killed, apparently by his own hand.
A child and her mother leave a staging area outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14.
Members of the media converge on December 14 in front of an apartment at 1313 Grand Street in Hoboken, New Jersey. The apartment is believed to be connected to the Connecticut elementary school shooting.
Faisal Ali, right, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, joins other people outside the White House on December 14 to participate in a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting
Connecticut State Police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance, center, briefs the media on the elementary school shootings during a press conference at Treadwell Memorial Park on December 14 in Newtown
People weep and embrace near Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday, December 14.cnnArticleGallery
A woman leans on a man as she weeps near Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
President Barack Obama wipes a tear as he speaks about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School during a press briefing at the White House on December 14
A woman weeps near the site of a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
A woman weeps near Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
People comfort each other near Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
A man takes in the scene near Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
A young girl is given a blanket after being evacuated from Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
State police personnel lead children from the school
Children wait outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, after the shooting
A boy weeps at Reed Intermediate School after getting news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
FBI SWAT team members walk along Dickinson Drive near Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
An aerial view of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14
Connecticut State Troopers arrive on the scene outside Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14.
A Connecticut State Police officer runs with a shotgun at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on December 14
Police patrol the streets around Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
People try to deal with the shock of the attack outside Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
Connecticut State Police secure the scene of the shooting on December 14
People embrace outside Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
A man escorts his son away from Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
People take in the news outside Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
People line up to enter Newtown Methodist Church near the the scene of the shooting on December 14
A woman speaks with a Connecticut state trooper outside Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
The streets around Sandy Hook Elementary are packed with first responders and other vehicles
A view of the scene at Sandy Hook Elementary School after the shooting
A young boy is comforted outside Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14
People embrace each other on December 14
And the feeling of safety in this bucolic southern New England town of Newtown was shattered.
“Evil visited this community today,” Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said.
How do we stop the violence?
Young students described being ushered into bathrooms and closets by teachers as the first shots rang out.
Third-grader Alexis Wasik said police and teachers barged into her classroom and told students to hide in the corner.
“Everybody was crying,” she said. “And I just heard the police officers yelling.”
One parent who was in the school at the time of the shooting said she heard a “pop, pop, pop,” sound around 9:30 a.m. In the room with her were Hochsprung, the vice principal and Sherlach. All three left the room and went into the hall to see what was happening. The parent ducked under the table and called 911.
“I cowered,” she told CNN’s Meredith Artley. The shooter “must have shot a hundred rounds.”
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As reports of the shooting surfaced, frantic parents descended on a nearby firehouse where the children had been evacuated.
“Why? Why?” one woman wailed as she walked up a wooded roadway leading from the school.
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Police declined to speculate on a motive Friday evening, citing the ongoing investigation.
Three weapons were recovered from the school: a semi-automatic .223 Bushmaster, a Glock and a Sig Sauer, a source with knowledge of the investigation said. Lt. J. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police said that the medical examiner will determine the cause of death for the gunman, though he noted that police never discharged their weapons.
In addition to the carnage at Sandy Hook, another adult was found dead at a second location in Newtown, Vance said. A law enforcement source with detailed knowledge of the investigation identified that person as Nancy Lanza, the mother of the suspected shooter, who was found dead at her son’s home. She was a teacher at Sandy Hook, sources said.
Meanwhile, authorities in Hoboken, New Jersey, were questioning Ryan Lanza, the suspect’s older brother, law enforcement sources said.
The fact that so many of those killed were young children — Sandy Hook serves students in kindergarten through fourth grade — touched a nerve across the world Friday, from U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders expressing grief to regular folks reacting with horror on social media as the news unfolded. The overwhelming sentiment: Hug your kids closely.
Obama, a father of two girls, wiped away tears while delivering a statement about the shooting, saying, “Our hearts are broken today.”
“The majority of those who died today were children. Beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old,” he said.
Flags were ordered to fly at half-staff nationwide in tribute to the victims, and candlelight vigils were being planned across the country as Americans came together to try to comprehend the tragedy.
“This is most definitely the worst thing we’ve experienced in town,” Newtown Police Lt. George Sinko said.
It is not yet known how the gunman entered the school.
Slain principal worked to keep students safe
Hochsprung, the slain principal, had recently installed a new security system to ensure student safety.
Under the new system, every visitor would be required to ring a doorbell at the front entrance after the doors locked at 9:30 a.m. and report to the main office to sign in.
Police began receiving reports of shots fired around 9:40 a.m. Friday.
With the death toll at 26, the Newtown shooting is the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, behind only the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech that left 32 people dead.
In 1999, at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, two students shot 13 people to death before killing themselves.
Complete coverage of the Connecticut school shooting
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CNN’s Susan Candiotti reported from Newtown, Connecticut; Sarah Aarthun from Atlanta. CNN’s Michael Pearson, Meredith Artley, John King, David Ariosto and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.