Investigators, Newtown, world still struggle with 'Why?' gunman shot 26 people

A message is seen on a candle outside the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A man killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday inside the Sandy Hook Elementary school, massacring 26 people, including 20 children, as youngsters cowered in fear to the sound of gunshots reverberating through the building and screams echoing over the intercom. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Photo by AP

A message is seen on a candle outside the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A man killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday inside the Sandy Hook Elementary school, massacring 26 people, including 20 children, as youngsters cowered in fear to the sound of gunshots reverberating through the building and screams echoing over the intercom. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

This 2005 photo provided by neighbor Barbara Frey and verified by Richard Novia, shows Adam Lanza. Authorities have identified Lanza as the gunman who killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, inside an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself.  (AP Photo/Barbara Frey)

AP

This 2005 photo provided by neighbor Barbara Frey and verified by Richard Novia, shows Adam Lanza. Authorities have identified Lanza as the gunman who killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, inside an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself. (AP Photo/Barbara Frey)

This undated photo shows Adam Lanza posing for a group photo of the technology club which appeared in the Newtown High School yearbook. Authorities have identified Lanza as the gunman who killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, inside an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself. Richard Novia, a one-time adviser to the technology club, verified that the photo shows Lanza. (AP Photo)

AP

This undated photo shows Adam Lanza posing for a group photo of the technology club which appeared in the Newtown High School yearbook. Authorities have identified Lanza as the gunman who killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, inside an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself. Richard Novia, a one-time adviser to the technology club, verified that the photo shows Lanza. (AP Photo)

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NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — Investigators tried to figure out what led a bright but painfully awkward 20-year-old to slaughter 26 children and adults at a Connecticut elementary school, while townspeople sadly took down some of their Christmas decorations and struggled Saturday with how to go on.

The tragedy brought forth soul-searching and grief around the globe. Families as far away as Puerto Rico began to plan funerals for victims who still had their baby teeth, world leaders extended condolences, and vigils were held around the U.S.

Amid the sorrow, stories of heroism emerged, including an account of the Sandy Hook Elementary School principal who lost her life lunging at the gunman, Adam Lanza, in an attempt to overpower him.

Police shed no light on what triggered the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, though state police Lt. Paul Vance said investigators had found "very good evidence ... that our investigators will be able to use in painting the complete picture, the how and, more importantly, the why." He would not elaborate.

Another law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators have found no note or manifesto from Lanza of the sort they have come to expect after murderous rampages such as the Virginia Tech bloodbath in 2007 that left 33 people dead.

The mystery deepened as Newtown education officials said they had found no link between Lanza's mother and the school, contrary to news reports that said she was a teacher there. Investigators said they believe Adam Lanza attended Sandy Hook Elementary many years ago, but they had no explanation for why he went there on Friday.

Lanza shot and killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at the home they shared, then drove to the school in her car with at least three of her guns, forced his way inside and opened fire in two classrooms, authorities said. Within minutes, he killed 20 children, six adults and himself.

On Saturday, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver said all the victims at the school were shot with a rifle, at least some of them up close, and all of them were apparently shot more than once. All six adults killed at the school were women. Of the 20 children, eight were boys and 12 were girls. All the children were 6 or 7 years old.

Asked how many bullets were fired, Carver said, "I'm lucky if I can tell you how many I found."

Asked if the children suffered, he paused. "If so," he said, "not for very long."

The tragedy plunged Newtown into mourning and added the picturesque New England community of handsome colonial homes, red-brick sidewalks and 27,000 people to the grim map of towns where mass shootings in recent years have periodically reignited the national debate over gun control but led to little change.

Signs around town read, "Hug a teacher today," ''Please pray for Newtown" and "Love will get us through."

"People in my neighborhood are feeling guilty about it being Christmas. They are taking down decorations," said Jeannie Pasacreta, a psychologist who was advising parents struggling with how to talk to their children.

The list of the dead was released Saturday, but in the tightly knit town, nearly everyone already seemed to know someone who died.

Among the dead: well-liked Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, who town officials say tried to stop the rampage; school psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, who probably would have helped survivors grapple with the tragedy; a teacher thrilled to have been hired this year; and a 6-year-old girl who had just moved to Newtown from Canada.

"Next week is going to be horrible," said the town's legislative council chairman, Jeff Capeci, thinking about the string of funerals the town will face. "Horrible, and the week leading into Christmas."

School board chairwoman Debbie Leidlein spent Friday night meeting with parents who lost children and shivered as she recalled those conversations. "They were asking why. They can't wrap their minds around it. Why? What's going on?" she said. "And we just don't have any answers for them."

Authorities said Lanza had no criminal history, and it was not clear whether he had a job. Lanza was believed to have suffered from a personality disorder, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lanza had been diagnosed with Asperger's, a mild form of autism often characterized by social awkwardness. People with the disorder are often highly intelligent. While they can become frustrated more easily, there is no evidence of a link between Asperger's and violent behavior, experts say.

The law enforcement officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the unfolding investigation.

Acquaintances describe the former honor student as smart but odd and remote.

Olivia DeVivo, now a student at the University of Connecticut, recalled that Lanza always came to school toting a briefcase and wearing his shirt buttoned all the way up. "He was very different and very shy and didn't make an effort to interact with anybody" in his 10th-grade English class, she said.

"You had yourself a very scared young boy who was very nervous around people," said Richard Novia, who was the school district's head of security and adviser to the high school's Tech Club, of which Lanza was a member. He added: "He was a loner."

Novia said Lanza had extreme difficulties relating to fellow students and teachers, as well as a strange bodily condition: "If that boy would've burned himself, he would not have known it or felt it physically."

Lanza would also go through crises that would require his mother to come to school to deal with. Such episodes might involve "total withdrawal from whatever he was supposed to be doing, be it a class, be it sitting and read a book," Novia said.

When people approached Lanza in the hallways, he would press himself against the wall or walk in a different direction, clutching his black case "like an 8-year-old who refuses to give up his teddy bear," said Novia, who now lives in Tennessee.

Even so, Novia said his main concern about Lanza was that he might become a target for teasing or abuse by other students, not that he might become a threat.

"Somewhere along in the last four years there were significant changes that led to what has happened Friday morning," Novia said. "I could never have foreseen him doing that."

Sandy Hook Elementary will be closed next week — some parents can't even conceive of sending their children back, Leidlein said — and officials are deciding what to do about the town's other schools.

Asked whether the town would recover, Maryann Jacob, a clerk in the school library who took cover in a storage room with 18 fourth-graders during the shooting rampage, said: "We have to. We have a lot of children left."

Posted earlier

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — The massacre of 26 children and adults at a Connecticut elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, a 20-year-old described as brilliant but remote, was driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims.

Investigators were trying to learn more about Adam Lanza and questioned his older brother, who was not believed to have been involved in the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary. Police shed no light on the motive for the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

In tight-knit Newtown on Friday night, hundreds of people packed St. Rose of Lima Church and stood outside in a vigil for the 28 dead — 20 children and six adults at the school, the gunman's mother at home, and the gunman himself, who committed suicide. People held hands, lit candles and sang "Silent Night."

"These 20 children were just beautiful, beautiful children," Monsignor Robert Weiss said. "These 20 children lit up this community better than all these Christmas lights we have. ... There are a lot brighter stars up there tonight because of these kids."

Lanza is believed to have suffered from a personality disorder and lived with his mother, said a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation.

Asked at a news conference whether Lanza had left any emails or other writings that might explain the rampage, state police Lt. Paul Vance said investigators had found "very good evidence" and hoped it would answer questions about the gunman's motives. Vance would not elaborate.

The tragedy plunged the picturesque New England town of 27,000 people into mourning.

"People in my neighborhood are feeling guilty about it being Christmas. They are taking down decorations," said Jeannie Pasacreta, a psychologist who volunteered her services and was advising parents struggling with how to talk to their children.

Lanza shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, drove to the school in her car with at least three of her guns, and opened fire in two classrooms around 9:30 a.m. Friday, law enforcement officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A custodian ran through the halls, warning of a gunman, and someone switched on the intercom, perhaps saving many lives by letting them hear the chaos in the school office, a teacher said. Teachers locked their doors and ordered children to huddle in a corner, duck under their desks or hide in closets as shots reverberated through the building.

Among those killed was the school's well-liked principal, Dawn Hochsprung. Town officials said she died while lunging at the gunman in an attempt to overtake him. A woman who worked at the school was wounded.

Maryann Jacob, a clerk in the school library, was in there with 18 fourth-graders when they heard a commotion and gunfire outside the room. She had the youngsters crawl into a storage room, and they locked the door and barricaded it with a file cabinet. There happened to be materials for coloring, "so we set them up with paper and crayons."

After what she guessed was about an hour, officers came to the door and knocked, but those inside couldn't be sure it was the police.

"One of them slid his badge under the door, and they called and said, 'It's OK, it's the police,'" she said.

A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said investigators believe Lanza attended the school several years ago but appeared to have no recent connection to it. It was not clear whether he held a job.

At least one parent said Lanza's mother was a substitute teacher at the school. But her name did not appear on a staff list. And the official said investigators were unable to establish any connection so far between her and the school.

Lanza's older brother, 24-year-old Ryan Lanza, of Hoboken, N.J., was questioned, and investigators searched his computers and phone records, but he told law enforcement he had not been in touch with his brother since about 2010.

For about two hours late Friday and early Saturday, clergy members and emergency vehicles moved steadily to and from the school. The state medical examiner's office said bodies of the victims would be taken there for autopsies.

The gunman forced his way into the kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school, authorities said. He took three guns into the school — a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both semiautomatic pistols, and a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle, according to an official who was not authorized to discuss information with reporters and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The weapons were registered to his slain mother.

Lanza and his mother lived in a well-to-do part of prosperous Newtown, about 60 miles northeast of New York City, where neighbors are doctors or hold white-collar positions at companies such as General Electric, Pepsi and IBM.

His parents filed for divorce in 2008, according to court records. His father, Peter Lanza, lives in Stamford, Conn., and works as a tax director for GE.

The gunman's aunt Marsha Lanza, of Crystal Lake, Ill., said her nephew was raised by kind, nurturing parents who would not have hesitated to seek mental help for him if he needed it.

"Nancy wasn't one to deny reality," Marsha Lanza said, adding her husband had seen Adam as recently as June and recalled nothing out of the ordinary.

Catherine Urso, of Newtown, said her college-age son knew the killer. "He just said he was very thin, very remote and was one of the goths," she said.

Lanza attended Newtown High School, and several news clippings from recent years mention his name among the honor roll students.

Joshua Milas, who graduated from Newtown High in 2009 and belonged to the school technology club with him, said that Lanza was generally a happy person but that he hadn't seen him in a few years.

"We would hang out, and he was a good kid. He was smart," Joshua Milas said. "He was probably one of the smartest kids I know. He was probably a genius."

The mass shooting is one of the deadliest in U.S. history, and among school attacks is second in victims only to the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, which left 33 people dead, including the gunman. Reaction was swift and emotional in Newtown and beyond.

"It has to stop, these senseless deaths," said Frank DeAngelis, principal of Colorado's Columbine High School, where a massacre in 1999 killed 15 people.

In Washington, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence organized a vigil at the White House, with some protesters chanting, "Today IS the day" to take steps to curb gun violence. In New York's Times Square, a few dozen people held tea lights in plastic cups, with one woman holding a sign that read: "Take a moment and candle to remember the victims of the Newtown shooting."

President Barack Obama's comments on the tragedy amounted to one of the most outwardly emotional moments of his presidency.

"The majority of those who died were children — beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old," Obama said at a White House news briefing. He paused for several seconds to keep his composure as he teared up and wiped an eye. Nearby, two aides cried and held hands.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard described the attack as a "senseless and incomprehensible act of evil."

"Like President Obama and his fellow Americans, our hearts too are broken," Gillard said in a statement.

In Japan, where guns are severely restricted and there are extremely few gun-related crimes, the attack led the news two days before parliamentary elections. In China, which has seen several knife rampages at schools in recent years, the attack quickly consumed public discussion.

In Newtown, Robert Licata said his 6-year-old son was in class when the gunman burst in and shot the teacher. "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."

He said the shooter didn't utter a word.

Kaitlin Roig, a teacher at the school, said she implored 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," Roig told ABC.

"If they started crying, I would take their face and say, 'It's going to be OK. Show me your smile,'" she said. "They said, 'We want to go home for Christmas. Yes, yeah. I just want to hug my mom.' Things like that, that were just heartbreaking."

___

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Pat Eaton-Robb and Matt Apuzzo and videographer Robert Ray in Newtown; Bridget Murphy in Boston; Samantha Henry in Newark, N.J.; Pete Yost in Washington; Michael Melia in Hartford; and the AP News Research Center in New York.

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