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December 20, 2014

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I can’t imagine who would do this to our poor little babies’

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Karsten Moran / The New York Times

Mental health and grief counsellors walk toward the scene of a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, 2012.

Connecticut Elementary School Shooting

David Freedman, right, kneels with his son Zachary, 9, both of Newtown, Conn., as they visit a sidewalk memorial for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. Launch slideshow »

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NEWTOWN, Conn. — Gradually, the group of frantic parents shrank and was gently ushered to wait in a back room in the old brick firehouse around the corner from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The sounds of cartoons playing for restless children wafted incongruously through the air, but the adults were hushed. A police officer entered and put the parents’ worst fears into words: Their children were gone. The wails that followed could be heard from outside, sounding the end of a horrifying shooting that took the lives of 20 children and six adults in the school.

It was about 9:30 a.m., when the school locks its doors to the outside world, demanding identification from visitors. What happened next sounded different depending on where you were in the school when a normal school day exploded.

Pops. Bangs. Thundering, pounding booms that echoed, and kept coming and coming. Screams and the cries of children ebbed, until there was only the gunfire.

Countless safety drills learned over generations kicked in. Teachers sprang to their doors and turned the locks tight. Children and adults huddled in closets, crawled under desks and crouched in classroom corners.

Laura Feinstein, a reading support teacher, reached for her telephone. “I called theoffice and said, ‘Barb, is everything OK?’ and she said, ‘There is a shooter in the building.”’

“I heard gunshots going on and on and on,” Feinstein said.

Even in the gym, the loudest room in any school on a given day, something sounded very wrong. “Really loud bangs,” said Brendan Murray, 9, who was there with his fourth-grade class. “We thought that someone was knocking something over. And we heard yelling and we heard gunshots. We heard lots of gunshots.”

“We heard someone say, ‘Put your hands up!”’ Brendan said. “I heard, ‘Don’t shoot!' We had to go into the closet in the gym.”

In the library, Yvonne Cech, a librarian, locked herself, an assistant and 18 fourth-graders in a closet behind file cabinets while the sound of gunfire thundered outside.

Witnesses said later that they heard as many as 100 gunshots, but saw next to nothing in their hiding places. What was happening?

“Some people,” a little girl said later, searching for words, “they got a stomachache.”

The shooting finally stopped. Most teachers kept the children frozen in hiding. Some 15 minutes later, there was another sound, coming from the school intercom. It had been on the whole time. A voice said, “It’s OK. It’s safe now.”

Brendan, in the gym, said, “Then someone came and told us to run down the hallway. There were police at every door. There were lots of people crying and screaming.”

The officers led children past the carnage. “They said ‘Close your eyes, hold hands,”’ said Vanessa Bajraliu, 9.

Outside, a nightmare version of the school was taking shape. Police officers swarmed with dogs and roared overhead in helicopters. There were armored cars and ambulances.

Inside, the librarians and children had been hiding in the closet for 45 minutes when a SWAT team arrived and escorted them out.

Word spread quickly through the small town. At nearby Danbury Hospital, doctors and nurses girded for an onslaught of wounded victims. “We immediately convened four trauma teams to be ready for casualties,” a spokeswoman, Andrea Rynn, said. Nurses, surgeons, internal medicine and imaging specialists, as well as staff members from pathology and the hospital lab,rushed to assemble in the emergency room to receive an influx of patients from the shooting. An influx that never arrived. Only three victims came to the hospital, two of whom did not survive. The rest were already dead.

“I’ve been here for 11 years,” Feinstein, the teacher, said. “I can’t imagine who would do this to our poor little babies.”

Another nurse who lives near the school hurried to the scene. “But a police officer came out and said they didn’t need any nurses,” she said. “So I knew it wasn’t good.”

Survivors gathered at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire and Rescue station house, just down the street. Parents heard – on the radio, or on television, or via text messages or calls from an automated, emergency service phone tree – and came running. In the confusion, there were shrieks of joy as mothers and fathers were reunited with their children.

The parents whose children were unaccounted for were taken to the separate room, and a list of the missing was made. The pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church, Monsignor Robert Weiss, saw the list. “It was around, obviously, the number that passed away,” he said.

The Rev. Matthew Crebbin ofNewtown Congregational Church was there, too.

“It’s very agonizing for the families, but they are trying to be very meticulous,” he said. “But it is very difficult for people.”

A woman named Diane, a friend of a parent whose child was missing, said a state trooper had been assigned to each family. “I think there are 20 sets of parents over there,” she said.

In another room of the firehouse, there were the oddly joyous sounds of cartoons. There were plates and pans of pizza and other donated food. No one touched it.

“There was a multifaith service with people sitting in folding chairs in a circle,” said John Woodall, a psychiatrist who lives nearby and went to the firehouse. “And after that, people milled around and waited for news.”

Outside, reunions continued. News, good and bad, was borne on the faces of the people around the school. Three women emerged with their arms around the one in the middle, protecting her. “We just want to get her home,” one said.

A few minutes later, a mother and father practically ran past in relief, a little girl in a light blue jacket riding on her father’s shoulders.

Brendan’s father had been at home about a mile away with his wife when the phone rang, a call from the automated alert system saying there was a lockdown at the school.

“At first we weren’t too nervous, because you hear of lockdowns happening all the time,” said his father, Sean Murray. “Like if there was a liquor store down here being robbed, all the schools would go into lockdown.”

They turned on the television and heard about the shooting, and how parents were being advised to stay away from the school. They ran to the car and went, and found Brendan waiting.

“It’s sick,” Murray said. “It’s sick that something like this could happen at an elementary school.”

Bonnie Fredericks, the owner of Sandy Hook Hair Co., said that many of the town’s children had gathered recently for the lighting of the village Christmas tree, down the street from her shop.

Twenty were gone now. “We’ll know all of them,” she said.

Beside her shop, a sandwich board outside of a liquor store relayed a simple message, pasted over a sign advertising a beer special: “Say a prayer.”

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  1. God, help them in this time of need.

  2. Attention parents lock up the guns in your home . Make sure your children cannot access them . They will find your hiding places and break crappy locks . Get a real gun safe . Just because you have the right to own a gun doesn't mean you can leave them laying around the house .

  3. Needless to say, the shock of this tragedy and the implications have far reaching consequences....

    Later on this morning, I'm going to breakfast with my neighbor. She's an elementary school teacher (third grade) in northeast Las Vegas.

    I know the main topic of discussion will be how is she gonna explain the unexplainable to the children in her class. And do it in such a way that's acceptable to parents. Because it's a foregone conclusion it will come up. And it has to be addressed. It can't be ignored.

    I ain't got a clue. But I'll try to do my best to help her by talking to her and offering support.

    C'mon, politicians. You need to do something. Anything.

    When is it time to address this issue? Not only about guns, extended magazines, automatic weapons, but mental health issues too. DO SOMETHING. Even if it doesn't fix anything, at least someone can say they tried to make a difference.

    Even if it's enact legislation against crew served weapons (which are already banned). If you can enact legislation to destroy Obamacare 33 times, you darn sure at least can do that.

    Talk time is over with. ACTION. DO SOMETHING.

  4. As mentioned elsewhere, people feel hopeless when they cannot see a pleasant life for themselves. Since we are ALL part of the human family, we each must treat other people well. While you may not like my lifestyle or my choices, you MUST respect me. You must treat me well enough that I KNOW THAT YOU APPROVE OF ME. You can mention that I have choices and options. Maybe I won't ever be with the "in crowd" but I probably prefer to not be. It's not enough, and not appropriate, for government and/or the "mental health system" to involuntarily commit everyone who might "snap" but it is definitely OK for all of us to let each other feel OK about ourselves. I'm not suggesting that we condone ANY form of misbehavior. But we can compliment friends, neighbors and STRANGERS. We can extend COMMON COURTESY--which tells them they are worthy.

  5. Further, some people figure out all by themselves that a "normal" marriage and family won't work for them or they have enormous trouble forming any relationship. Constantly glorifying the perfect family displaces everybody else. Just think what the victims' families will face in the years to come. When they see your kids graduate, they will hurt. And others will hurt--all the people who won't have children, living spouses. So can we act human and humanely to everyone, before these things happen?

  6. Teachers need guns?? You want me to keep a gun, in a safe, secure area -in a classroom with only one entry/exit? How in the heck do you suppose I would get across the room, through 36 desks, students, and backpacks to said secure location, unlock the gun, load the gun, and shoot the gunman standing in the door of my classroom before any students are harmed?

    That is beyond ridiculous.

    Last week teachers were dumb, couldn't teach children to read, didn't do their job, and didn't have a clue- but now we're supposed to be Superman?

  7. Brother said Shooter didn't feel emotional or physical pain. WRONG. Shooter felt deep pain almost constantly but couldn't show it. Shooter had no positive reinforcement but was ridiculed for not being "normal" or like the other kids so Shooter couldn't find a comfort zone. Just a little reading between the headlines and we can see the Shooter as a BULLIED and RIDICULED CHILD whose mother pulled him out of school for home schooling. The Shooter never "adjusted" and never had a chance. I am not condoning his crimes. I am trying to point out that each and every act of bullying and ridicule has an equal and OPPOSITE REACTION--not from meanness to kindness but an "opposite" direction, from you to me reverses back to "you." Our society, culture, communities bear the brunt of our injustices. No mental health "system" can repair the damage of "peers" who do intentional harm. Let us pray also for the Shooter.

  8. For those, Teapublican in particular, who advocate arming teachers - you are unbelievably stupid. For a teacher or teachers to have been able to get a jump on this deranged young man in Connecticut, they would have had to be holstered up and ready like Marshal Dillon in Dodge City to be ready to shoot in a nanosecond. It's a school, for goodness sake, not a SWAT situation.

    And, Teapublican, where do you get this "liberal anti-gun laws" crap from? Every liberal I know, myself included, are not anti-gun. What we are for are even stricter regulations regarding getting guns. Like some have mentioned, ANYONE can go to a gun show and purchase a weapon. That must stop. Stricter laws must be put into effect to make it harder to purchase any type of weapon.

    BTW - this kid lived in an affluent neighborhood. WHY did his mother need an assault rifle in her home??

  9. First, my soul weeps uncontrollably for these little beloved tykes, this monstrous action will have a profound impact on America and possibly humanity at large. These children who may have had answers to yet unfounded problems will never be allowed their unrestrained imagination to discover solutions plaguing all realms of mankind's conundrums.

    Secondly, let's not politicize this heinous crime to use as a pseudo terrorist method to address gun control. This selfish boy with mental challenges is to blame along with his poor parenting, nothing else in the way of method or what means he used can rationalize his spoiled behavior.

    Adam's action is a manifestation of recoiled love, a love which may have been adjourned by his mother. The timeline will expose just how much hatred was encoded in him to perpetrate such an ominous felony.

    Adam's parents divorced, this left a misunderstanding of self-mother love. With his father abdicating any young child rearing, he was blighted that love could go astray.

    Still Adam held out that acceptance from his mother would sustain him, but his failure to actualize in his mother's eyes just compounded his inner self-loathing.

    Adam's mother loved her little darlings in school, she talked of them endlessly to him and how she adored them. They were smart, disciplined, eager, and beautiful with endless possibilities of mastering any vocation.

    Adam's resentment exploded, he wanted to destroy everything his mother loved, for not loving him. He killed her because she had to go to them, and then he killed all the children that had taken his rightful love from his mother.

    Now, America weeps aloud for the innocents lost and the incalculable impact these seraphim could have trumpeted for us as a nation or for all of humanity in their exorable lives.

    I will always quietly weep for the loss of my fellow man, yet I feel guilt for the fact that I'm glad Adam Lanza, the coward is dead.