The school day started for Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut at 9 o’clock this morning. The classrooms were filled with over 600 students who were ready to start their Friday, who were pulling out pencils and crayons, who were looking forward to parties and the holiday break just days away, who had no reason to suspect how this day, that was like any other, would play out. After all, this is Newtown, Connecticut, a town that Stephen Delgiadice whose 8-yr-old daughter attends Sandy Hook Elementary, said was “the safest place in America.” Unfortunately, this day was not like any other. Not for the teachers. Not for well-loved principal Dawn Hochsprung, and not for hundreds of 6 to 10 year olds.
Shortly after 9:30 a man dressed in all black, wearing a bulletproofed vest, and carrying three weapons walked into the elementary school. Within minutes the lives within this school, within the close-knit town of 27,000, and throughout our country would never be the same.
According to reports, the authorities began to receive calls around 9:40 saying that a heavily armed man was in the building and shots were being fired. One parent said she was in the office with Hochsprung, the vice principal, and the school psychologist when they heard a “pop, pop, pop,” shortly after 9:30. She said the three administrators went into the hall to investigate while she hid under a table and called 911. Children report being locked in their classrooms, being ushered into corners, or squeezed into closets by their teachers. Others reported seeing the gunman shoot their teacher before they ran out of the room. Others said that everyone was running, and crying. One teacher said that after checking the hallway, she quickly locked the door to her classroom and then gathered her students in a corner and read aloud to them in an attempt to drown out the noise and keep the children calm.
When police arrived, they performed a search and found the suspected gunman, identified as Adam Lanza, aged 20, who had apparently taken his own life by self-inflicted gunshot after the attack. As the horrific scene unfolded for investigators, there were 27 confirmed dead at the Sandy HookElementary School. The death toll included 20 children, 6 adults, and the suspect. The deaths occurred in two separate rooms in the school. Among the adults who were killed was principal Hochsprung who had rushed out of the office to investigate when the disturbance began. At this point no other information is available on the victims, although a police spokesperson confirmed that there was a 28th victim at a separate location who has been identified as the shooter’s mother Nancy Lanza. According to the police, apparently Lanza shot and killed his mother at their home before taking her car to the school. Police found 3 weapons in the school which were used in the rampage: a semiautomatic .223 caliber Bushmaster rifle and two pistols, a Sig Sauer and a Glock. It was reported that all three guns had been purchased legally by Nancy Lanza.
Richard Wilford, the parent of a Sandy Hook Elementary student, described the chaos of the day and the wash of emotions that were felt as he hugged his 7-year-old son. “There’s no words,” he conveyed. “It’s sheer terror, a sense of imminent danger, to get to your child and be there to protect him.” Police Lt. George Sinko at the scene said, “This is most definitely the worst thing we’ve experienced in town.”
Outside the small town, reactions were just as horrified. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy was quick to issue comment saying, “Evil visited this community today and it’s too early to speak of recovery, but each parent, each sibling, each member of the family has to understand that Connecticut — we’re all in this together. We’ll do whatever we can to overcome this event.” On a national level, President Barack Obama faced one of his toughest and most emotional speeches. He seemed to speak for parents everywhere who were looking only to get home and hug their children as news of the tragedy spread. “Our hearts are broken today,” Obama said. “I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between five and 10 years old.” The President paused to collect himself, noticeably affected by the events. Two of his aides could be seen in the background in the White House briefing room holding hands to support each other and crying openly. The President continued: “They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.” Obama also promised “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this,” though no explanation of this action was given.
Today’s shooting becomes the second worst in U.S. history behind the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007 where 32 students were killed. The events today also bear eerie similarities to those from the Aurora, Colorado theatre shooting just five months ago where a young man dressed in black, wearing body armor, and carrying multiple weapons opened fire in a crowded cinema, killing 12.
The details of this unimaginable situation are still being investigated. There are no known motives and little is known of the suspected shooter. What is clear is that this is a truly horrific situation and one that seems to be part of a disturbing and growing trend in our country. Speaking out today, 13 years after facing a similar tragedy, Frank DeAngelis principal of ColumbineHigh School, spoke for many: “You go to a movie theater in Aurora and all of a sudden your life is taken. You’re at a shopping mall in Portland, Ore., and your life is taken. This morning, when parents kissed their kids goodbye knowing that they are going to be home to celebrate the holiday season coming up, you don’t expect this to happen. I think as a society, we need to come together. It has to stop, these senseless deaths.”