'I want Christmas, I don't want to die', pupil said during school shooting
What one child told teacher as 15 of them waited, barricaded in a small bathroom, for the deadly madness that was going on outside to cease
First, he killed his mother. Then 20-year-old Adam Lanza drove her car through Newtown, Connecticut, and arrived at a school brimming with the season's joy.
Theodore Varga and other fourth-grade teachers, still glowing from their pupils' concert the previous night, were meeting.
"It was a lovely day," Varga said. "Everybody was joyful and cheerful. We were ending the week on a high note."
And then, suddenly and unfathomably, gunshots rang out. "I can't even remember how many," he said.
The school had a security protocol that called for doors to be locked during the day and for visitors to be checked on a video monitor inside.
The lock system did not go into effect until 9.30am each morning, according to a letter to parents from the principal, Dawn Hochsprung.
It was Hochsprung who recognised Lanza, because his mother worked at the school. Some reports said Nancy Lanza worked as a substitute teacher and was not a regular employee.
The fourth-graders, the oldest children in the school, were in speciality classes such as gym and music. There was no lock on the meeting room door, so the teachers had to think about how to escape, knowing their pupils were with other teachers.
Someone turned the loudspeaker on, so everyone could hear what was happening in the school office.
"You could hear the hysteria that was going on," Varga said. "Whoever did that saved a lot of people. Everyone in the school was listening to the terror that was transpiring."
Gathered in another room for a 9.30am meeting were Hochsprung and school therapist Diane Day, along with a school psychologist, other staff members and a parent.
They were meeting to discuss a second-grader. "We were there for about five minutes chatting, and we heard Pop! Pop!, Pop!" Day said. "I went under the table."
But Hochsprung and the psychologist leaped out of their seats and ran out of the room, Day recalled. "They didn't think twice about confronting or seeing what was going on," she said. Both were shot dead.
A janitor ran around, warning people there was a gunman, Varga said. "He said, 'Guys! Get down! Hide!' So he was actually a hero."
Police radios crackled with first word of the shooting at 9.36, according to the New York Post.
"Sandy Hook School. Caller is indicating she thinks there's someone shooting in the building," a Newtown dispatcher radioed, according to a tape posted on the newspaper's website.
In a first-grade classroom, teacher Kaitlin Roig heard the shots. She immediately barricaded her 15 pupils into a tiny bathroom, sitting one of them on top of the toilet.
She pulled a bookshelf across the door and locked it. She told them to be "absolutely quiet".
"The kids were being so good," she said. "They asked, 'Can we go see if anyone is out there?' 'I just want Christmas. I don't want to die, I just want to have Christmas.' I said, 'You're going to have Christmas and Hanukkah."'
One child claimed to know karate. "It's OK. I'll lead the way out," the boy said. In the gym, crying fourth-graders huddled in a corner. One of them was 10-year-old Philip Makris.
"He said he heard a lot of loud noises and then screaming," said his mother, Melissa Makris.
"Then the gym teachers immediately gathered the children in a corner and kept them safe."
Robert Licata said his six-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.
"The shooting appears to have stopped," the dispatcher radioed at 9.38am, according to the Post. "There is silence at this time. The school is in lockdown."
And at 9.46am, an anguished voice from the school: "I've got bodies here. Need ambulances."
Carefully, police searched room to room, removing children and staff from harm's way.
They found Adam Lanza, dead by his own hand after shooting up two classrooms.
Student Brendan Murray said it was chaos in his classroom at first after he heard loud bangs and screaming. A police officer went in and asked, "Is he in here?" and then ran out.
"Then our teacher, somebody, yelled, 'Get to a safe place.' Then we went to a closet in the gym and we sat there for a little while, and then the police were, like, knocking on the door and they were, like, 'We're evacuating people, we're evacuating people,' so we ran out."
Police Lieutenant Paul Vance, said the pupils who died were in two classrooms.
Yvonne Cech, a school librarian, said she spent 45 minutes locked in a closet with two library clerks, a library assistant and 18 fourth-graders. "The SWAT team escorted us out," she said, and then the children were reunited with their parents.
Vance said 18 youngsters were pronounced dead at the school and two others were taken to a hospital where they were declared dead. All the adults who were killed at the school were pronounced dead there.
Parents rushed to the scene. Family members walked away from a firehouse that was being used as a staging area, some of them openly weeping.
Governor Dan Malloy and other public officials went to the firehouse. So did clergymen like Monsignor Robert Weiss, of Newtown's St Rose Catholic Church.
He watched as parents came to realise that they would never see their children alive again.
"All of them were hoping their child would be found OK. But when they gave out the actual death toll, they realised their child was gone," Weiss said.
He recalled the reaction of the brother of one of the victims.
"They told a little boy it was his sister who passed on," Weiss said. "The boy said, 'I'm not going to have anyone to play with."'
Associated Press, New York Post, McClatchy Tribune, Reuters, Agence France-Presse
A long history of US school shootings
1966 August 1, University of Texas. After murdering his wife and mother, Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded dozens of people firing from the 28th floor of a university clock tower before being killed by police.
1976 July 12, California State University Fullerton. Edward Charles Allaway, 37, bought a semi-automatic rifle at a Kmart store and then used it to kill seven people in the library where he worked as a custodian. He was committed to a mental hospital.
1989 January 17, Cleveland elementary school. Patrick Edward Purdy used a semi-automatic rifle to kill five children and dozens of others at a school in Stockton, California, before killing himself. The case led to a ban on assault weapons in California.
1991 November 1, University of Iowa. Gang Lu, 27, a graduate student from China, went on a shooting rampage in two buildings on the University of Iowa campus, killing four members of his department and another university employee. Lu, who was said to have been infuriated because his doctoral dissertation was not nominated for an academic award, killed himself at the scene of the attack.
1998 March 24, Westside middle school. Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, shot dead four students and a teacher at a school near Jonesboro, Arkansas. Nine other people were injured by the pair, who were released from a juvenile detention centre in 2005.
1999 April 20, Columbine high school. Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, murdered 12 students and a teacher and injured 24 others at their former high school in Columbine, Colorado, before killing themselves.
2005 March 21, Red Lake high school, Minnesota. After shooting dead his grandfather and partner, Jeffrey Weise went on to kill a teacher, a security guard, five fellow students and then himself at a high school on a Native American reservation.
2006 October 2, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Charles Carl Roberts, a milk truck driver, killed five young girls in an Amish schoolhouse before taking his own life. Five other girls were critically injured by Roberts, who was not Amish.
2007 April 16, Virginia Tech. Seung-Hui Cho, a student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, killed 32 people during a shooting rampage before killing himself. Cho, who was born in South Korea, was studying English and had been living on the university campus.