Picture of heroism in the face of tragedy emerges as Newtown grieves for fallen
As US president Barack Obama arrived in Newtown last night, details about the horrific devastation caused by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, and the heroic actions by teachers to save their students, emerged from the bucolic, comfortably middle-class Connecticut town whose name, like that of Columbine, will be forever linked with infamy.
Dr H Wayne Carver II, the chief medical examiner in Connecticut, delivered a shocking forensic recounting of the massacre in which 20 children and six teachers were gunned down at an elementary school by Lanza, a troubled local man who used his mother’s legally purchased weapons to commit the second-worst school shooting in American history.
All of the children killed, 12 girls and eight boys, were first-graders, aged either six or seven. He said they had been shot multiple times, suffering anywhere between three and 11 wounds.
Dr Carver said the injuries to the children were so devastating that he took the unusual step of having their parents identify their bodies by viewing photographs, to spare them the shock.
Attempt to disarm
Janet Robinson, the superintendent of schools in Newtown, located 60 miles northeast of New York City, said the Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung (47) and the school’s psychologist, Mary Sherlach (56), were killed as they rushed headlong at Lanza, trying to disarm him.
Victoria Soto, who at 27 was thrilled to have landed her first full-time teaching job at the school, had hidden her first-graders into closets and cabinets after she heard the gunshots down the hall.
When Lanza entered Ms Soto’s classroom, she told him her students were in the gymnasium and he shot her dead.
“She put herself between the gunman and the kids,” her cousin James Wiltsie, a police officer, told ABC News.
The parents of Anne Marie Murphy (52), another of the slain teachers, said they were told by police she had also been shot while trying to keep the gunman away from her students.
Other teachers hid with their students in closets or huddled in classrooms until police officers swarmed the school and told them it was safe to come out.
A still unclear portrait of the shooter was slowly emerging, painting him as a troubled loner who some claim had Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.
While uniformly described as academically bright, Lanza was socially awkward and did not socialise with peers. Police say the weapons he brought to the massacre – two semi-automatic pistols and a .223 calibre Bushmaster rifle – were bought legally by his mother, Nancy, who was the first to die.
Police say Lanza shot his mother in the face in the sprawling Colonial home they shared, then drove to the nearby school, broke glass at the entrance to gain entry and systematically began shooting.
Why Lanza chose to attack the school remains a mystery.
Initial reports that Ms Lanza had taught at the school were discounted by Ms Robinson, the school superintendent. It is still unclear whether Lanza attended the school as a child. His family lived in the town at a time when he would have been in that school’s age group, but he was also home-schooled for a period, according to friends of Ms Lanza. Police said they had uncovered evidence that pointed to a motive, but they did not release that information.