NEWTOWN, Connecticut (AP) -- A shooting at a U.S. school Friday left 27 people dead, including 18 children, an official said. It was one of the worst school shootings in the country’s history.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is under way. Another official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the gunman was killed and apparently had two guns.
The White House said President Barack Obama had been notified and that he had “enormous sympathy for families that are affected.”
It was the latest of several mass shootings in the U.S. this year, and it approached the deadly scope of the Virginia Tech university massacre in 2007 that left 32 dead.
This time, the victims were young children. Photos from the scene showed students—some crying, others looking frightened—being escorted by adults through a parking lot in a line, hands on each other’s shoulders.
A law enforcement official in Washington said the attacker was a 20-year-old man with ties to the school and that one of the guns was a .223-caliber rifle. The official also said that New Jersey State Police were searching a location in that state in connection with the shootings. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak on the record about the developing criminal investigation.
The Friday morning killings happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of New York City. The superintendent’s office said the district had locked down schools, and schools in neighboring towns also were locked down as a precaution.
Stephen Delgiadice said his 8-year-old daughter heard two big bangs, and teachers told her to get in a corner. His daughter was fine.
“It’s alarming, especially in Newtown, Connecticut, which we always thought was the safest place in America,” he said.
Mergim Bajraliu, 17, heard the gunshots echo from his home and raced to check on his 9-year-old sister at the school. He said his sister, who was fine, heard a scream come over the intercom at one point. He said teachers were shaking and crying as they came out of the building.
“Everyone was just traumatized,” he said.
Richard Wilford said his 7-year-old son, Richie, said he heard a noise that “sounded like what he described as cans falling.”
The boy told him a teacher went out to check on the noise, came back in, locked the door and had the kids huddle up in the corner until police arrived.
“There’s no words,” Wilford said. “It’s sheer terror, a sense of imminent danger, to get to your child and be there to protect him.”
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said the administration would “do everything we can to support state and local law enforcement.”
Carney wouldn’t say whether the shooting would make gun control a higher priority on the president’s agenda, but he said there would be a day for discussion on that policy issue.
“But I don’t think today is that day,” he said.
Associated Press writer Michael Melia contributed to this report from Hartford.