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As president heads to Newtown, stories of heroism, courage and brutality emerge in wake of shooting

- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2012

NEWTOWN, Conn. — One day after the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history, a stunned nation on Saturday began a grim, all-too-familiar process: mourning the loss of innocents, learning more about a killer and looking for answers in the wake of madness.

The White House announced Saturday that the president would travel to Newtown on Sunday to join grieving families at a vigil for the victims killed Friday in the shooting spree that claimed the lives of 28, including 20 children.

Through the day Saturday, more details trickled out on the tragedy – from revelations about the troubled life of Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old shooter, to the horrifying conclusions of the medical examiner who examined the bodies of the dead, to the amazing stories of heroism and sacrifice on the part of students and teachers trapped inside Sandy Hook Elementary with a killer Friday morning.

Police on Saturday released the names of the 26 victims killed inside the school: Six adults, all women, and 20 children, all under the age of 7 – eight boys and 12 girls. The shooter also killed his mother inside the home they shared before ending the spree inside the school by taking his own life.

Chief medical examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver II said he and his staff worked throughout the night to identify the dead children – and he described the carnage as the worst he's ever seen.

"This is a very devastating set of injuries," he said.

All the children suffered multiple gunshot wounds and were killed with a rifle the gunman was carrying, he said, one of three semiautomatic weapons the police recovered from the scene.

All three weapons were legally registered to the shooter's mother, Nancy Lanza, 52, whose was found shot to death in her Newtown house, not far from the Sandy Hook school.

Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance said Saturday police found information about the killer's motivation during a search of the Lanza home, but offered no further details.

"Our investigators at the crime scene did produce some very good evidence in this investigation that our investigators will be able to use in, hopefully, painting the complete picture as to the how and more importantly, why this occurred," Lt. Vance said.

Officials also said they have found no link between Lanza's mother and the school, despite earlier news reports that indicated she may have been a teacher or a substitute there.

At least one law enforcement official said he believes Adam Lanza attended Sandy Hook Elementary many years ago, but there has been no official comment on why the gunman went there on Friday.

Authorities, who questioned the shooter's 24-year-old brother Ryan Lanza on Friday afternoon, have been tight-lipped about their investigation into the life of the killer, but neighbors and classmates who knew Adam Lanza, opening up on social media and in interviews, described him as "socially awkward" and "troubled."

As authorities pieced together the killer's life in the days and weeks leading up to the rampage, the parents and families in Newtown struggled to deal with unimaginable loss.

On Friday night, hundreds of people packed St. Rose of Lima church and stood outside in a vigil, holding candles and singing "Silent Night," according to the Associated Press.

Stories of heroism and sacrifice also emerged Saturday.

According to one survivor, two of the women killed inside the school building, Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, and school psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, died as heroes, rushing to try and overpower the shooter after he forced his way into the building.

"He was not voluntarily let into the school at all," Lt. Vance said. "He forced his way in."

On CNN, Maryann Jacob, a clerk in the school library, talked of herding 18 fourth-graders into a storage room, where they locked and barricade a door with a file cabinet. The school had practiced "lockdown" procedures before, she said, and their training kicked in. As they waited to be rescued, she said she and the other adults kept the children busy with "paper and crayons."

Robert Licata told reporters his 6-year-old son was in class when the shooter burst in and shot his teacher, 27-year-old Victoria Soto. "That's when my son grabbed a bunch of his friends and ran out the door," he said. "He was very brave. He waited for his friends."

His son, Mr. Licata said, told him the shooter didn't utter a word.

Ms. Soto's cousin, James Willsie, told ABC News that she had "put herself between the gunman and the kids."

Teacher Kaitlin Roig told ABC News that she begged her students to be quiet.

"I told them we had to be absolutely quiet. Because I was just so afraid if he did come in, then he would hear us and just start shooting the door. I said we have to be absolutely quiet. And I said there are bad guys out there now and we need to wait for the good guys to come get us out. If they started crying, I would take their face and say, 'It's going to be OK. Show me your smile,' " she said.

Robbie Parker, the father of 6-year-old shooting victim Emilie Parker, choked back tears on Saturday night as he faced reporters and cameras.

"As the deep pain begins to settle into our hearts, we find comfort reflecting on the incredible person Emilie was," Mr. Parker said. "As we move on from what happened here, what happened to so many people, let us not let it turn into something that defines us. Let us please keep the sentiments of love that we feel for our families."

Many in the small, affluent Connecticut community were still struggling Saturday to comprehend the scope of the tragedy.

"We're blown away by just how sick and grotesque it was. It's not something the people here were mentally prepared for," said Ricky Andrews, a 24-year-old accountant and lifelong resident of Newtown.

Like dozens of others on Saturday night, Mr. Andrews sought refuge at a local gathering spot, the Blue Colony Diner, only a few miles from Sandy Hook Elementary.

"This town isn't used to this kind of traffic or this kind of attention," he said as he stood outside the diner, just before he and his girlfriend went inside.

News vans and out-of-state license plates filled the Blue Colony parking lot, evidence of the spotlight now shown on this Connecticut town, torn apart by events still difficult to comprehend.

"It hasn't even sunk in yet," Mr. Andrews said, sadness and disbelief in his voice.

President Obama, who spoke to the nation on Friday after the shooting, again offered words of condolence on Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address – while also indicating the White House may be ready to take up gun control in the wake of the nation's latest school shooting.

"We have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this. Regardless of the politics," the president said

The rampage, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, was the nation's second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the Virginia Tech massacre that left 33 people dead in 2007. The death toll was more than double the 1999 attack on Columbine High School in Colorado.

Several news organizations reported Saturday that the shooter was armed with a Glock semi automatic handgun, a Sig Sauer semi automatic handgun and a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle. All three were used in the attack, according to sources, and all three were legally registered to the gunman's mother.

Authorities were also looking into three additional weapons.

The shooting evoked memories of the deadly incidents at Virginia Tech and Colorado's Columbine High School. But federal and state officials, citing beefed up security and safety procedures in recent years, say that the country's K-12 schools have become safer in recent years, according to the most recent statistics.

The U.S. Department of Education reported that the number of people killed in so-called "school-associated" incidents fell from a high of 63 in the 2006-2007 school year to 33 in the latest full school year.

• This article was based in part on wire service reports. Valerie Richardson, Jerry Seper, David Sands and Jim McElhatton contributed to this report.

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