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'Incredible acts' from teachers 'saved lives'

Doctor Janet Robinson, Newtown Superintendent of Schools, says "incredible acts of heroism" by teachers saved many lives, even though so many lives were lost.

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The US school gunman used an assault rifle to pump his mostly six- and seven-year old victims with multiple bullets, authorities said, as details of the horrific spree became clearer.

Connecticut's chief medical examiner H Wayne Carver says the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday resulted in a ‘‘devastating set of injuries’’.

A family lay flowers in a roadside shrine to the victims.

A family lay flowers in a roadside shrine to the victims. Photo: Nick O'Malley

Police now say they’ve found ‘‘very good evidence’’ which they hoped would answer questions about the motives of the 20-year-old gunman, described as brilliant but remote, who forced his way into the school and killed 26 people.

Witnesses say the gunman, Adam Lanza, didn’t say a word as he shot children as young as five years old and later killed himself.

Military-assault rifle was main weapon

People grieve outside the overflow area of a vigil at the Saint Rose of Lima church in Newtown, Connecticut. Click for more photos

Scores dead in Connecticut school massacre

People grieve outside the overflow area of a vigil at the Saint Rose of Lima church in Newtown, Connecticut. Photo: Reuters

Previously it had been reported that Lanza, 20, used two law enforcement-style handguns to murder the 20 children and six adults. But, as detectives continued to go over the blood-soaked school in the quiet town, authorities for the first time revealed that the principal weapon was a Bushmaster .233 rifle, which is designed for shooting people in military assaults.

"All of the wounds I know of at this point were caused by the long weapon," Dr Carver told a news conference, referring to the semi-automatic, military grade rifle.

He also said that the majority of victims were "first graders wearing cute kids' stuff" and that all seven of the bodies he personally examined had been hit between three and 11 times.

Carver indicated that the rifle is a killing machine firing "bullets (that) are designed in such a fashion that the energy is deposited in the tissue, so the bullet stays in."

Connecticut State Police, meanwhile, released the ages of the victims, who included 16 six-year-olds and four seven-year-olds.

Twelve of the 20 slain children were girls and eight were boys.

The six adults killed were all women, including the school principal and the school psychologist, who at 56 was the eldest victim.

The information went a long way to filling in gaps in the picture of what happened in the massacre early Friday, just after classes started, and reaffirmed how well prepared Lanza was.

Shooter's motives the biggest mystery

Emilie Parker, shown with her father Robbie Parker, was one of the 20 children killed.

Emilie Parker, shown with her father Robbie Parker, was one of the 20 children killed. Photo: Reuters

The motives of the shooter were the biggest mystery. Dr Carver said that on Sunday he would conduct a post-mortem on Lanza and on his mother, who was shot in her home apparently just before Lanza went to the school.

Connecticut state police spokesman Lt Paul Vance would not reveal how Lanza gained entry to the school, which has a practice of checking identification before admitting visitors, but it was earlier reported broken glass was seen at the front door.

It has also been reported that the school’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was found dead not far from the entrance, and that she and the school’s psychologist, who was also killed, had lunged at the murderer, Adam Lanza, in an apparent attempt to protect their students. Police have not confirmed those details.

Earlier reports suggested Lanza had been admitted by staff.

Lt Vance said the names of all the victims would be released as soon as all had been positively identified. That list will include 18 children who died at the scene and two who were pronounced dead in a nearby hospital; six adults who were associated with the school, as well as Lanza who is thought to have shot himself; and his mother Nancy, who was found dead, thought to have been shot in the face in her nearby home.

Lt Vance said the three major crime teams that are scouring the school had collected significant evidence.

"Our investigators at the crime scene, the school and secondarily at the secondary crime scene we discussed where the female was located deceased, did produce some very good evidence in this investigation that our investigators will be able to use in hopefully painting the complete picture as to how and more importantly why this occurred," he said.

Obama to meet families of victims

President Barack Obama will meet tomorrow with families of the victims of the massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school and speak at a memorial service, the White House announced.

The service is scheduled for 7 pm local time, the White House said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Newtown’s streets were choked yesterday with police and reporters, and the streets around the school and the firehouse where the survivors gathered after the attack were blocked to traffic.

Around town locals embraced spontaneously and quietly when they came across one as they went about the day.

In a local diner Karin Aurelia, 69, said she was waiting for the names to be released.

“I might not know the victims, but I will know their parents or their grandparents,” she said. “My husband died a month ago so I have my grief, but nothing like this.”

Her friend Caroline James said, “I just keep thinking of all those little bodies on the ground. How did he do that?”

At midday a small congregation gathered at the St Johns Episcopal church around the corner from the firehouse and school, where they listened to a sermon on the nature of evil that was almost drowned out by the sound of media camera shutters. They heard that evil was committed by choice and was thus 'the act of man rather than God'.

'Hug a teacher today'

Over the road from the Church a woman put signs in the window of her dress shop, Sabrina Styles. “Please Pray for Newtown,” read one, “Give your loved ones a hug,” said the other. Within minutes the bench beneath the signs had become another of Newtown’s makeshift shrines, piled with flowers and candles.

Other banners hung in the second story windows of nearby buildings. “God Bless Sandy Hook,” said one. “Hug a teacher today,” said another.

A few hundred meters away over a small hill another shrine had begun to grow on the corner of Dickerson and Riverside Drives, where the road into the school meets the firehouse where the survivors gathered on Friday morning and where the lucky were reunited with their children.

There Calliope Ceballos, a five year old student of a nearby school, held her mother Judith’s hand as she placed feathered angles wings on the growing pile of flowers and toys.

“They are angels now,” said Judith moments later.

“My daughter told me yesterday she did not want to go to school on Monday,” she said. “This has affected us all.”

“Should I send my daughter to school on Monday? If you drop them off on Monday morning will you see them again?

“How do you know what they were thinking when they saw this man?”

Similar questions were being asked all over town.

Stories of the slain teachers began to circulate too. A local newspaper, the News-Times, told the story of Lauren Rousseau, who at 30 was having the year of her life.

She had met her boyfriend, Tony Lusardi, who told the paper that he called her Busy Bee.

After years of working as a substitute teacher she landed the job at Sandy Hook Elementary in October. Her mother worked as a subeditor at the News Times.

"She was like a kid in many ways,'' her father, Gilles Rousseau, told the News-Times. "That's why she liked working with kids so much. She died with her little kids.''

Outside the St Rose Catholic Church flowers and candles and toys were laid out before a statue of Mary, an offering that grew over the day.

Lt Vance asked reporters to respect the privacy of the families of the dead, and said a state trooper had been assigned to each family to assist them. Crisis response teams had also been sent in for their aid. New York authorities had sent a mobile morgue to Newtown, while police from around the state had arrived to help control the town and the scene.

A local Anglican Pastor, Bryan Bywater, said he did not expect the town to recover.

“Moms and Dads have Christmas presents in their closets, what do you do with those? What do you do?” he said.

“You don’t come back from that but you do overcome it,” he said.

- with Agencies