The shooter who rampaged through Sandy Hook Elementary School killed his victims with a rifle, authorities said Saturday, repeatly wounding kindergartners, first-graders and faculty mulitple times and leaving no chance for life.
Painting a grim scene, Connecticut;'s chief medical examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver said this is probably the "worst that I have seen" in his nearly 30 years as a medical examiner. He performed seven of the autopsies himself, and said all victims he examined had 3-11 bullet wounds.
Asked whether the victims suffered, Carver said, “Not for very long.”
As the names of the 12 girls, eight boys and six adult women were made public, tender portraits of the tiny children began to emerge, as did tales of heroism by committed educators who tried to protect their charges.
But the reasons behind Adam Lanza's rampage were even less clear, as authorities said he had no obvious recent tie to the school.
His father spoke for the first time about the shooting, which also left Lanza's mother dead in her Newtown home.
"Our hearts go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones and to all those who were injured," wrote Peter Lanza, the father of gunman Adam Lanza. It was the first public statement made by a close family member of Lanza since his shooting rampage devastated the quiet New England town. Adam Lanza was found dead at the scene.
"We are in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can," the statement said. "We too are asking why."
Meanwhile, the White House announced that President Obama will travel to Newtown Sunday to meet with victims' families, thank first responders and to speak at an interfaith vigil at 7 p.m. ET.
The update came hours after authorities said they had uncovered “very good evidence” that might help explain gunman Adam Lanza’s motive, which still remained very much a mystery.
With the theory that Lanza's mother had been a teacher at the school discounted by officials, those who had known him as a young, awkward teen-ager could think of nothing that would have predicted such inexplicable rage.
“We’ve been doing everything we need to do to peel back the onion, layer by layer, and get more information,” state police spokesman Lt. Paul Vance said Saturday.
Court records showed that Lanza's parents had divorced in 2008 after 17 years of marriage, according to The New York Times, which added that Peter Lanza had moved out of the family's home.
Vance declined to elaborate on the evidence that investigators have uncovered. He said that the shooter had “forced his way” into the Newtown school.
Gov. Dannel Malloy addressed the state about the tragedy on Saturday.
"Those educators, and those innocent little boys and girls were taken from their families far too soon. Let us all hope and pray those children are now in a place where that innocence will forever be protected," Malloy said.
All the victims' bodies were removed from from the school overnight and the families identified them through photos, the medical examiner said on Saturday.
Families had only seen pictures of their children's facial features. “It’s easier on the families when you do that,” Carver said.
One of those victims is school principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47. She was married and had five children of her own.
School psychologist Mary Sherlach was also killed. Sherlach is survived by her husband of 31 years, Bill, and her 25- and 28-year-old daughters.
The release of the names was a dreaded but anxiously awaited moment as the town -- and the nation -- struggles to accept such an unimaginable crime.
Hundreds of mourners gathered in Newtown —a town of 28,000 people — Friday night to remember the students and teachers lost in the tragedy. So many people had shown up for a vigil at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church that dozens, unable to get in, watched the service through open windows and doorways.
“I think about these children … and I know we have 20 new saints, 20 new angels,” Monsignor Robert Weiss told the standing-room-only crowd. “But that doesn’t take away the pain. It doesn’t take away the hurt. But it does bring us closer together.”
Earlier in the morning, 20-year-old Adam Lanza (pictured below) had stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire. Newtown Police Lt. George Sinko said on NBC's "Today" show it appeared Lanza shot his way into the school by shattering glass by the front door.
By the time his shooting rampage had ended, 20 small children and six adults had been killed. He, too, was found dead at the scene. A woman believed to be his mother, Nancy Lanza, was also found shot dead in a Newtown home. Despite earlier reports, it did not appear she was a staff member at Sandy Hook Elementary. Newtown superintendent Dr. Janet Robinson told told NBC Connecticut that there was no record of Nancy Lanza in their database. She may have been a substitute teacher, but it was unclear.
Investigators spent hours questioning Lanza's 24-year-old brother Ryan, who told them that Adam had a history of mental health issues and that they had not spoken in two years, NBC News reported.
It was the second-deadliest school shooting in American history, second only to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that killed 32.
President Obama, addressing the nation for the second time, said Saturday that in his weekly radio and Internet address that "every parent in America has a heart heavy with hurt."
On Friday, Obama teared up as he talked about the young victims.
"They had their entire lives ahead of them. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own," he said at a press conference. "So our hearts are broken for them today."
"We wanted to give our support to this town," Mantone said while she and her daughters stood in a circle, cradling lit candles outside the church. "I hope people would help our town if God forbid something happened to us."
As the investigation continues, officers have been assigned to the parents so the information is communicated directly to them, according to state police.
Major crime detectives are still working the scene and their investigation won't be completed for another day and a half to two days, Lt. Vance said Saturday.
“It’s going to be a long, painstaking process,” he said.