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Slaughter of the innocents as gunman stalks school corridors

Date

Jon Swaine and Marc Fisher

Paramedics push stretchers towards Sandy Hook Elementary.

Paramedics push stretchers towards Sandy Hook Elementary. Photo: AP

AS THE 600 pupils of Sandy Hook Elementary School filed into lessons on a bright, chilly morning in Newtown, Dawn Hochsprung, the school's headmistress, sat down for a meeting in her office with six colleagues.

About 9.30am, those in the meeting heard a loud ''pop pop pop'' from the hall. Mrs Hochsprung, 47, rushed outside with one of her deputies and the school psychologist. Only one of them came back.

Bloodied by a gunshot wound in the leg, the vice-principal crawled back inside the office, frantically urging colleagues to call 911.

Dressed in black, armed with multiple weapons and apparently wearing a bulletproof vest, a gunman, Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old teacher's son, had begun opening fire in a ''concentrated area'' of the school, believed to be a kindergarten classroom.

One quick-thinking teacher appears to have hit the button on the school public address system, broadcasting the shots and screams.

That was enough for some teachers to move their students away from doors and windows. In one room, a teacher locked her students in a closet, a move parents said saved their children's lives. In another class, a teacher heard two blasts and ordered students into a corner.

A janitor ran through the halls, shouting that a gunman was in the building. Witnesses heard dozens of pops coming from two classrooms and a hallway.

''My daughter said she heard cursing come over the loudspeaker and that cursing wasn't the right thing; so the teacher, Mrs Martin, looked at the kids and she said, 'Get in the corner','' said one parent. ''She did a very good job. She locked the door and that basically saved their lives, I think.''

Confused and screaming children and staff were soon moving, panicked, through the hallway, witnesses said. Police in Newtown, Connecticut, a picturesque and prosperous town about an hour's drive outside New York, were dispatched to the scene, quickly joined by state troopers and authorities from surrounding towns.

Frantically checking what Lieutenant Paul Vance called ''every door, every crack and every crevice'' for potential victims, police and teachers bundled children into the backs of classrooms around the school as they scoured the scene.

Around Newtown, word spread by text, phone and the sound of dozens of emergency vehicles thundering towards the school.Joseph Wasik, 42, wasn't too worried when his wife, Lynn, called to say she had received a text alert from the school. Like schools nationwide, Sandy Hook had been on lockdown before, always for events that turned out to be nothing.

But when Mr Wasik flipped open his laptop and saw a report of a school shooting, he got in his car and headed to Sandy Hook, where his daughter Alexis is a third-grader. ''I flew down there,'' said Mr Wasik, an electrician.

When he arrived, the back-up of emergency vehicles and panicked parents extended half a kilometre beyond the school. Mr Wasik parked on the first lawn he could find and ran.

''It was chaos, cars blocking everything, a SWAT team,'' he said. ''All these parents screaming for their kids.''

Children were ushered out of the building, instructed to close their eyes as adults guided them through the halls. Some were so scared they vomited.

The students were moved into the parking lot, single file, hands on one another's shoulders. Some wept, some smiled, some stared at the pavement.

A few of the children had blood on their clothes.

In a first-grade classroom, a boy, seeing that his teacher had been shot, bolted out the back door and kept running, friends said. The boy ended up half a kilometre away.

Some parents said the shooter probably was able to walk in unquestioned because school employees knew he was a teacher's son. Adam Lanza had arrived at Sandy Hook in his mother's car, law enforcement sources said.

Police found three firearms: two handguns inside the school, a Sig Sauer and a Glock, and a .223 Bushmaster brand rifle in a car outside the building. A law enforcement official said the weapons were obtained legally and were registered to a family member.

After police determined that the shooter was not at large, the students were taken to a nearby firehouse, where they sat with classmates as teachers wrote up a list of everyone who was there. Parents, many of them sobbing, arrived to reunite with their children.

''It was elbow-to-elbow people crying,'' Mr Wasik said. ''No one could tell you where to go. People were screaming, 'Please say it's not mine, please say it's not mine.''' His daughter survived.

WASHINGTON POST, TELEGRAPH

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