Connecticut shooting leaves 27 dead, including 18 pupils

At least 27 people, including up to 18 children, are thought to have been killed in a mass shooting at the Sandy Hook primary school in Newton, a small town in rural Connecticut.

The gunman was identified in US media reports as 24-year-old Ryan Lanza, who killed his father at home before driving to the school and killing his mother, who worked there, along with many of her young students.

Newtown police received their first 911 call just after 9.30am and learned that a man wearing a bullet proof vest entered the school about 9.40am – Friday morning in America – and opened fire.

This man,who is understood to have ties to the school, is thought to have been found dead on the scene with at least two handguns.

According to one television report, a second man was caught by police in an adjoining wood, handcuffed and escorted from the scene.

Connecticut State Police spokesman Lieutenant Paul Vance could not confirm the death toll, but told reporters on Friday there had been ‘‘several fatalities’’ among staff and students.

The toll could not be confirmed until the victims were properly identified and their families notified.

Lieutenant Vance said the shooter had died within the building during a police operation to rescue the pupils, and that the scene at the primary school was now secure and the public safe.

However, he gave few details of the latest US gun massacre.

If confirmed, the toll would be the second highest death toll in a US school shooting, after the 2007 campus shootings at Virginia Tech, which left 32 dead.

The number would far exceed the 15 killed in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, which triggered a fierce but inconclusive debate about the United States’ liberal gun control laws.

US President Barack Obama, who began receiving briefings on the shootings from 10.30am and was following events, struggled to compose himself Friday as gave his first reaction in the White House briefing room.

Wiping away tears, he promised ‘‘meaningful’’ action to stop gun tragedies.

‘‘The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of five and ten years old,’’ Obama said.

‘‘They had their entire lives ahead of them, birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.’’

Obama paused for several seconds, and breathed heavily, several times wiping a tear from the corner of his eye.

Tearful Obama mourns 'beautiful kids'

Witnesses reported hearing at least 100 shots fired and police have found two adult survivors hiding on the grounds. Hundreds of other children were escorted from the scene.

Alexis Wasik, a third-grader at the school, said police were checking everybody inside the school before they were escorted to a nearby firehouse, USA Today reported. She said she heard shots and saw her former nursery school teacher being taken out of the building on a stretcher, but didn't know if the woman had been shot.

At the firehouse many of the gathered parents ran to embrace their children, others learned that their children were among the dead.

"We had to walk with a partner," said Wasik, 8, told the paper. One child leaving the school said that there was shattered glass everywhere. A police officer ran into the classroom and told them to run outside and keep going until the reach the firehouse, The Hartford Courant reported.

At the firehouse many of the gathered parents ran to embrace their children, others learned that their children were among the dead.

One parent, Richard Wilford said his son described a sound like “pans falling” when gunshots rang out. He said that his son told him that the teacher went to go check, came back in and locked the door and told the students to stand in the corner.

“What does a parent think about coming to a school where there’s a shooting? It’s the most terrifying moment of a parent’s life … you have no idea,” said Wilford.

Witnesses described an intense fusillade, with perhaps 100 rounds fired, and seeing a corridor splashed with blood.

‘‘I was in the gym at the time ... we heard lots of bangs, and we thought that it was the custodian knocking stuff down. We heard screaming. And so went to the wall, and we sat down,’’ a young boy told WCBS television.

‘‘Then the police came in. It’s like, is he in here? Then he ran out. Then somebody yelled, ‘Get to a safe place’, so we went to the closet in the gym and we sat there for a little while,’’ he said, as stunned parents arrived.

‘‘Then the police like were knocking on the door, and they’re like, ‘We’re evacuating people, we’re evacuating people’. We ran out.

‘‘There are police at every door leading us down ‘This way, this way. Quick, quick, come on.’ ‘‘We ran down to the firehouse. There’s a man that’s pinned down to the ground with handcuffs on,’’ he said.

Police swarmed into the leafy neighbourhood after the shooting, while other schools in the area were put under lock-down, police and local media said.

The Newtown Bee newspaper said a child was carried out of the school with apparently serious injuries.

A photo on the Bee’s website showed officers leading more than a dozen frightened small children across a parking lot. Another image showed officers gathering in the quiet street nearby.

On the Newtown Public School District website, an alert was posted warning that ‘‘afternoon kindergarten is cancelled today’’ and that there would be no lunch-hour bus runs.

‘‘One of the cops, you know, said it was the worse thing he’d seen in his entire career but it was when they told all these parents waiting for children to come out,’’ a local nurse who rushed to the scene told WCBS news.

‘‘They thought that they were, you know, still alive. There’s 20 parents that were just told that their children are dead. It was awful,’’ she said.

Deadly shootings are a frequent occurrence in US public places, often ending only when the gunman is shot or takes his own life.

On Tuesday, a man with a semi-automatic rifle raked an Oregon shopping mall, killing two people, then taking his own life.

In the most notorious recent incident, in July, a 24-year-old, James Holmes, allegedly killed 12 people and wounded 58 others when he opened fire in a midnight screening of the latest Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado.

Last month, gunman Jared Loughner was jailed for life for killing six people in Tucson, Arizona, in January last year in an attack targeting congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head at point-blank range but survived.

However, despite the tragedies, support for tougher gun ownership laws is mixed, with many Americans opposing restrictions on what they consider to be a constitutional right to keep powerful firearms at home.

- with agencies

The story Connecticut shooting leaves 27 dead, including 18 pupils first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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