Sleepy New England community left reeling in wake of shooting of unimaginable horror
At 9.30am on a crisp and sunny morning yesterday, seven employees of Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, gathered for a weekly meeting. The outside doors of the school had been locked as part of a new security system that had just been introduced to “ensure student safety”.
The staff meeting that included headteacher Dawn Hochsprung, her deputy head and the school psychologist began.
There was plenty to talk about, judging from Hochsprung’s Twitter feed. Fourth graders were in final rehearsals for their winter concert; teachers were introducing a range of education apps for classroom iPads; there were new non-fiction books to be chosen.
Then five minutes into the discussions a loud “pop, pop, pop” noise was heard in the hallway outside the meeting room. The headteacher and her deputy immediately stood up and rushed out into the hall to find out what was happening, accompanied by the psychologist.
According to one of the other participants in that meeting, who spoke to CNN.com, only the deputy head came back, bleeding from a gunshot wound in her foot. The headteacher and psychologist were later seen lying in the hallway.
Within seconds, 911 calls flooded into the police dispatchers in Newtown, a New England community of about 25,000 located 97km (60 miles) northeast of New York city. A masked gunman was inside, the police were told, brandishing a semi-automatic rifle and a pistol targeted at some of the school’s 600 four- to nine-year-olds.
The community instantly went into the kind of emergency response now familiar from similar tragedies that have become etched in US national memory – Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, the list grows. But this kind of thing was never meant to happen here, not in sleepy Newtown.
“We always thought this was the safest place in America,” said Stephen Delgiadice, whose eight-year-old daughter was in class when the shooting started but got out unharmed.
He had raced to the school as soon as he heard the breaking news to find out if his child was safe. He described the moment he was reunited with her. “I saw her, and it was the happiest moment of my life,” he said.
Sandy Hook school was put into lockdown, as were all other schools in the region, and Swat teams rushed to the scene. Initial reports suggested two gunmen were involved, and police were sent to scour through the woods at the back of the school, though the idea of a second gunman faded as the day progressed.
Inside the school, the masked gunman, later identified as Adam Lanza (20), reportedly wearing a bulletproof vest and dressed in black, was on the attack.