A gunman killed 26 people, including 20 young children, at a US school where his mother worked today in one of the worst school shootings in the country’s history.
Frightened pupils who were rushed from the building by police were told to close their eyes.
“Our hearts are broken today,” President Barack Obama said, wiping his eyes during brief comments to reporters in one of the most emotional public moments of his presidency.
He said the children killed were aged between five and 10.
He said the nation had been “through this too many times” with recent mass shootings and has to come together to take meaningful action, “regardless of the politics”.
He did not give details, even as the debate over the issue of gun control in America exploded once again.
A law enforcement official said the suspect, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and was the son of a teacher at the school. A second law enforcement official said the mother, Nancy Lanza, was presumed dead.
Suspect in Connecticut shooting is dead of self-inflicted gunshot wound, says law enforcement official: http://t.co/DmYvYQbY -SS— The Associated Press (@AP) December 14, 2012
The first official said Adam Lanza’s older brother, 24-year-old Ryan, was being questioned by police.
An earlier report from a law enforcement official mistakenly transposed the brothers’ first names.
The attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School, just two weeks before Christmas, was the latest of several mass shootings in the US this year, and it approached the deadly scale of the Virginia Tech university massacre in 2007 that left 32 dead.
This time, many victims were young children. Photos from the scene showed students, some of them crying, being escorted by adults through a parking lot in a line, hands on each other’s shoulders. Children told their parents they had heard bangs and, at one point, a scream over the intercom.
State police said 18 children were found dead at the school and two died later in hospital. Six adults were found dead at the scene. They said the shootings occurred in one section of the school but did not give details.
Police said another person was found dead at a second scene, leading to a total death toll of 28. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said someone who lived with the gunman died.
According to the second law enforcement official, the suspect drove to the scene in his mother’s car. Three guns were found – a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both pistols – and a .223-caliber rifle.
The official also said Lanza’s girlfriend and another friend are missing in New Jersey.
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.”
Mr Licata said the gunman did not speak during the attack.
The shooting shocked the small, tranquil community in one of the wealthiest counties in the US, about 60 miles (96km) north-east of New York City.
The last news items posted before the shooting on the website of the tiny newspaper, The Newtown Bee, lamented cracked headstones at a local cemetery and asked residents to “share 2012 memories”.
Anguished parents ran to the scene when they heard the news.
Stephen Delgiadice said his eight-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 nine-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 traumatised,” he said.
Richard Wilford said his seven-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 got the children to huddle in a corner until police arrived.
“There’s no words,” Mr Wilford said. “It’s sheer terror, a sense of imminent danger, to get to your child and be there to protect him.”
Melissa Makris said her 10-year-old son, Philip, saw what looked like a body under a blanket as he fled the school.
“We have endured too many of these tragedies,” Mr Obama said in his briefing.
He spoke in the James S Brady Press Briefing Room, named in honour of the former White House press secretary who was shot and disabled in the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981. Mr Brady and his wife, Sarah, have become activists for gun control measures.
Earlier this year, a gunman killed 12 people at a Colorado cinema, and another gunman killed six people before killing himself at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
“If now is not the time to have a serious discussion about gun control and the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our society, I don’t know when is,” one member of Congress, Jerrold Nadler, said in a statement.
Overseas, there was both shock and sympathy.
In a public statement addressed to Mr Obama, French President Francois Hollande said he was “horrified”.
And British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “devastated” by the shooting and described the death of so many children as “truly heartbreaking”.
My thoughts are with those who have been devastated by the Connecticut shootings. The death of so many children is truly heartbreaking.— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) December 14, 2012