What Happened in the Newtown School Shooting

There’s no explaining such a horrific act, but here’s important background information.

Sandy Hook Elementary School on morning of shooting.Newtown Bee/ZUMA Press

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On Friday morning, 27 people were killed in a shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Among the fatalities are 20 children, six adults, and the shooter. [Update: Authorities told AP the gunman killed his mother before driving to the school in her car, where he targeted two classrooms in one section of the building.] Sandy Hook Elementary is secure and the alleged gunman is dead, Connecticut State Lt. Paul Vance told reporters at a press conference Friday afternoon. Authorities reportedly recovered three guns—a Glock and SIG Sauer, both pistols, inside the school and a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle in the shooter’s car. [Update: On Saturday, officials including the state’s chief medical examiner said that the rifle was the primary weapon used in the shooting.]   At least 100 rounds were fired. Officials have checked the suspect’s home for evidence.

A spokesperson for Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said President Obama called the governor to express his condolences and offer any federal resources to assist in the ongoing investigation.

Here’s an earlier ABC New report, which includes an interview with a parent at the school:

Here’s what we know:

What do we know about the shooter? Despite earlier media reports which misidentified the alleged shooter as Ryan Lanza, of Hoboken, New Jersey, AP confirmed the suspected gunman is Adam Lanza, 20, Ryan Lanza’s brother. Adam Lanza reportedly shot and killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, who reportedly worked at Sandy Hook Elementary School, before attacking the school. A law enforcement official told AP Adam Lanza died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was found dead inside the school. [Update: It appears Nancy Lanza did not work at school, but Adam had had an altercation with staff there a day prior to the shooting.]

According to AP, Ryan Lanza told law enforcement officials his brother may suffer from a personality disorder.

What are the gun laws like in Connecticut? According to the NRA, Connecticut requires permits for handguns, but not for shotguns or rifles. It’s illegal to possess a handgun if you’ve been convicted of a felony or a “serious juvenile offense.” 

How does the Newtown shooting compare to other mass shootings in this country? This year alone there had already been six mass shootings—and a record number of casualties, with 110 people injured and killed prior to today’s incident. (An FBI crime classification report identifies an individual as a mass murderer—as opposed to a spree killer or a serial killer—if he kills four or more people in a single incident, not including himself, and typically in a single location.) The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School is also the 12th mass shooting at a school in the United States in the past 30 years, according to our research; it is the second deadliest shooting behind the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 that killed 33 and injured 23.*

List of victims from The New York Times.

Here’s a rundown of the other shootings:

  • Cleveland Elementary School shooting in 1989, leaving 6 dead and 29 injured.
  • University of Iowa shooting in 1991, leaving 6 dead and 1 injured.
  • Lindhurst High School shooting in 1992, leaving 4 dead and 10 injured.
  • Westside Middle School shooting in 1992, leaving 5 dead and 10 injured.
  • Thurston High School shooting in 1998, leaving 4 dead and 25 injured.
  • Columbine High School shooting in 1999, leaving 15 dead and 24 injured.
  • Red Lake Senior High School shooting in 2005, leaving 10 dead and 5 injured.
  • Amish schoolhouse shooting in 2006, leaving 6 dead and 5 injured.
  • Northern Illinois University shooting in 2008, leaving 6 dead and 21 injured.
  • Oikos University shooting in 2012, leaving 7 dead and 3 injured.

What has the president said? Here is video of President Barack Obama’s press conference on Friday:

Here’s the transcript:

This afternoon, I spoke with Governor Malloy and FBI Director Mueller. I offered Governor Malloy my condolences on behalf of the nation, and made it clear he will have every single resource that he needs to investigate this heinous crime, care for the victims, counsel their families.

We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news I react not as a President, but as anybody else would—as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.

The majority of those who died today were children—beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them—birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers—men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.

So our hearts are broken today—for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost. Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early, and there are no words that will ease their pain.

As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago—these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.

This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter and we’ll tell them that we love them, and we’ll remind each other how deeply we love one another. But there are families in Connecticut who cannot do that tonight. And they need all of us right now. In the hard days to come, that community needs us to be at our best as Americans. And I will do everything in my power as President to help.

Because while nothing can fill the space of a lost child or loved one, all of us can extend a hand to those in need—to remind them that we are there for them, that we are praying for them, that the love they felt for those they lost endures not just in their memories but also in ours.

May God bless the memory of the victims and, in the words of Scripture, heal the broken-hearted and bind up their wounds.

What are other groups saying?

Philadelphia mayor Michael A. Nutter, of the United States Conference of Mayors, issued the following statement:

Again and again and again, Americans are stunned by senseless acts of violence involving guns. Today’s tragedy targeting young children in Newtown is incomprehensible.

On behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I send our condolences to the victims, their families, and their community. We know that Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy are doing everything possible today to help the community cope with so much loss and pain.

Too many times this year, mayors have expressed shock at a mass shooting. The Conference has been calling for sensible gun laws to protect the public for more than 40 years. We hope that today’s monstrous act of gun violence finally forces this nation’s leaders to make reasonable changes in our gun laws and regulations—changes that will help prevent senseless tragedies such as the one that has rocked Newtown and the nation.

As a country, we don’t need more debate, no more excuses. The time for action is now.

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, also a Mayors Against Illegal Guns co-chair had this to say:

With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it’s still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen. It has come to that. Not even kindergartners learning their A,B,Cs are safe. We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. Today, many of them were five-year-olds. President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership—not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response. My deepest sympathies are with the families of all those affected, and my determination to stop this madness is stronger than ever.

And here’s the statement from Brady Campaign president Dan Gross:

Like all Americans, our hearts are broken by this terrible tragedy. We send our thoughts and prayers to all those directly affected. Across the country, we will be giving extra strong hugs to our kids when they come home safely from school. But in the name of those who didn’t and in the name of the eight children and teens that die from guns every day in our nation, we cannot let it end there. We have to take terrible moments like this and use it as a catalyst to demand the sensible change in our nation that is too long overdue. We are better than this.

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, responded to the tragedy Friday evening:

Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun-free zones is to insure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun.

How are conservative activists on Twitter reacting to this? A bunch of them are reacting something like this.

How do mass shootings affect public opinion about gun control?  After the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, Pew Research Center surveyed more than 1,000 adults and found the country’s views on gun control and gun rights were essentially unchanged:

Courtesy of Pew Research Center

UPDATE, 6:20 p.m. EST, Friday, December 14: Law enforcement officials told NBC News the firearms used in the shooting were purchased legally, and registered to the gunman’s mother.

UPDATE 2, 7:18 p.m. EST, Friday, December 14: State police sources told the Hartford Courant that suspect Adam Lanza was found carrying the ID of his older brother, Ryan Lanza, which police said explained early reports that misidentified the shooter. [Update: Subsequent reports have said police may have been wrong and Adam did not have his brother’s ID on him.] Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer examines how the press got it wrong here.

UPDATE 3, 7:50 p.m. EST, Friday, December 14: Mother Jones’ Mark Follman was on NPR earlier today to discuss the shooting. Listen to the conversation here.

UPDATE 4, 8:15 p.m. EST, Friday, December 14: Diane Day, a therapist employed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, told the Wall Street Journal that she was in a meeting with the school’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and a school psychologist when the shooting broke out. The principal and psychologist, who reportedly both died in the shooting after they left the room to respond to the gunfire, “didn’t think twice about confronting or seeing what was going on,” Day said.

UPDATE 5, 9:20 p.m. EST, Friday, December 14: Mother Jones’ Kiera Butler takes a look at the best ways to talk to children about today’s school shooting without scaring them even more. Maddie Oatman and Ian Gordon report on the record number of gun background check requests this holiday season. And we’ve updated our chart of annual mass shootings; today’s deaths add to what had already been a year of record casualties.

UPDATE 6, 10:25 p.m. EST, Friday, December 14:
Mother JonesTim McDonnell and James West visited Newtown this evening to report from the scene of a vigil for the shooting victims outside a Methodist Church.UPDATE 6, 10:05 p.m. EST, Friday, December 14: In a New York Times profile of suspected shooter Adam Lanza, who reportedly arrived at Sandy Hook wearing body armor (though this claim was later refuted), former classmates and acquaintances described him as intelligent, but “deeply uncomfortable” in social situations. Lanza’s parents divorced in 2008. His father, Peter Lanza, is a tax executive at General Electric and lives in Stamford, Connecticut.

UPDATE 7, 4:45 p.m. EST, Saturday, December 15:

The chief medical examiner of Connecticut, H. Wayne Carver II, spoke at a news conference Saturday afternoon in Newtown. CNN reports:

[Carver] said that all of the victims died of gunshot wounds, and the manner of death was homicide. The seven bodies he examined personally had three to 11 wounds each, he said.
“I believe everyone was hit more than once,” Carver said.

He said the “rifle” was used in the shooting, and that the rifle caused all of the wounds that he knew of.
He didn’t say what that rifle was, but a law enforcement source has previously said that the gunman was found dead next to three guns: a semi-automatic .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle and two pistols made by Glock and Sig Sauer.
The medical examiner… said he personally did postmortem examinations of seven victims’ bodies.

This is a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle, similar to the one Lanza used:

UPDATE 8, 7:40 p.m. EST, Saturday, December 15:
Peter Lanza, the father of suspected gunman Adam Lanza, released a statement about the shooting Saturday evening, ABC News reports. The father said that “our family is grieving along with all those who have been affected by this enormous tragedy,” that “no words can truly express how heartbroken we are,” and that he and other relatives are “in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can.”


For additional information, read our guide to mass shootings in America, and our piece on mental illness and mass killings with guns. We’ll be adding updates to this explainer as we have them.

Correction: The original version of this article mistakenly swapped the numbers of those injured and killed for the Cleveland Elementary shooting, meaning the Newtown shooting was incorrectly identified as the third deadliest in the past 30 years.


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Straight to the point: Donations have been concerningly slow for our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, over the next few weeks so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

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