Residents of a small town in the US state of Connecticut have gathered for a vigil after the massacre of 20 small children and seven adults at a school, in one of the worst mass shootings in US history.
Hours after the shooting, hundreds of people came together on Saturday to express their grief, the crowd filling a local church to capacity and spilling outside its doors.
Some lit candles while others joined hands to sing Christmas songs.
“This is a kind of community, when things like that happen, they really pull together,” Robert Weiss, area priest, said during the Mass.
The heavily-armed young gunman shot dead 18 children on Friday inside Sandy Hook Elementary School, Lieutenant Paul Vance, Connecticut State Police spokesman told the AFP news agency.
Six adults at the school were also killed, he added, before the gunman, clad in black body armor according to media reports, was shot – either by his own hand or by police.
US media said the school principal was among those killed.
Authorities offered little clue as to the motive for the shootings in Newtown, a wooded small town northeast of New York City.
David Connors, whose triplets were at the school during the shooting but were unharmed, said he was still horrified.
“It’s hard. I’ve never imagined a thing like that could happen here.”
Barack Obama, US president, wiping away tears and struggling to maintain his composure, said he was aghast over the tragedy.
Vance said just one person suffered an injury and survived, indicating that the gunman was unusually accurate or methodical in his fire.
The majority of killings, which began at around 09:30am local time (13:40 GMT), “took place in one section of the school, in two rooms,” Vance added. The children were aged between five and 10, officials said.
US media reported that the killer was Adam Lanza, 20, and that police had earlier confused him with his brother, 24-year-old Ryan Lanza, whose identity card he had been carrying with him when he went into the school.
The surviving brother was in custody and being questioned, according to US television reports.
Many news outlets said the extra victim found in a home in Newtown – the twenty-eighth body in the day’s bloodshed was the shooter’s mother, who was a teacher at Sandy Hook and whom he had killed before driving to the school.
Police said they expected to be able to make public the identities of the victims later on Saturday.
Vance described a “massive investigation” and said that law enforcement agents working at the scene were having a hard time coping. “Between our personal experience, we’ve never seen anything like this. It’s heart wrenching for us,” he said.
Obama went on national television to express his “overwhelming grief”. He ordered flags to be lowered at half mast.
There were similar statements of grief and shock around the world.
Hamid Karzai, Afghan president, said: “I express my sorrow and condolences to the American people for this painful accident and I hope that nobody around the world suffers from such incidents. Afghanistan, especially, feels the pain of such incidents and almost every day such pains come to our people and we are dealing
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II sent a message to Obama in which she said she was “deeply shocked and saddened”.
Of all US campus shootings, the toll was second only to the 32 murders in the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.
The latest number far exceeded the 15 killed in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, which triggered a fierce but inconclusive debate about the United States’ relaxed gun control laws.
Witnesses described an intense fusillade fired at the elementary school, possibly numbering some 100 rounds, and seeing a corridor splattered with blood.
“I was going back to my classroom and I heard like a person kicking on the door and I turned around I smelled smoke,” an eight-year-old boy told NBC.
“Then bullets whizzed by and then a teacher pulled me into her room,” he said, describing “total panic”.