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Connecticut School Shooting Leaves Close to 30 Dead

Aired December 14, 2012 - 15:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to continue this conversation.

Let me welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We're following breaking news in the United States. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington, a horrific mass killing at a small elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, not long ago.

It unfolded in the 9:00 a.m. Eastern hour. And now we're beginning to get information that close to 30 people have been killed in this mass killing, in this mass shooting incident, about 18 to 20 of them, we're told, children, children in this elementary school, kindergarten through fourth grade, under 600 children in this school, outside of Danbury, Connecticut, Newtown, Connecticut, small town population under 2,000.

A little while ago, and we're going to be hearing from the president of the United States within the next 15 minutes, he will be making a statement to the nation from the West Wing of the White House, the press briefing room there. We will also be hearing from the governor of Connecticut, and presumably we will be getting more details.

But a little while ago , we heard this from the police chief in Newtown.


LT. J. PAUL VANCE, CONNECTICUT STATE POLICE: I will give you some very basic and brief information as we know it now. And we will set up regular press briefings as appropriate.

Just after 9:30 this morning, Newtown police received a 911 call for an emergency at the elementary school. Newtown P.D. upon obtaining information as to the status of the situation contacted the Connecticut State Police and requested assistance from state police and surrounding local police departments.

On- and off-duty troopers responded to the school and with Newtown police immediately upon arrival entered the school and began a complete active shooter search of the building. That included checking every door, every crack, every crevice, every portion of that school. Our main objective was to evacuate as quickly and as efficiently as possible any and all students and faculty in the school.

The entire school was searched. That was accomplished. A staging area was set up. The students and staff were put into that staging area and soon thereafter the children and staff were reunited with their parents and their loved ones. There were several fatalities at the scene, both students and staff. There is no information relative to that that is being released at this time until we have made complete and proper notification.

The shooter is deceased inside the building. There is a great deal of work that is undertaken immediately upon locating the shooter and that is there is a great deal of search warrant activity, a great deal of law enforcement activity both in and out of state to ensure that we cover all the bases relative to that specific individual.

Suffice it to say the scene is secure. The state police major crimes squad and Newtown Police Department, Danbury state's attorney and many agencies are working together to answer all the questions surrounding exactly what happened. As Mr. Occhiogrosso said, we will keep you briefed. We will keep you informed on a regular basis.

We will put everything out via our Web site and with these press conferences.


BLITZER: The gunman has been identified as Ryan Lanza in his 20s, someone from the town of Newtown.

Mary Snow is now joining us. Mary is outside the suspect's home there. We're getting the first images now from that home.

Mary, update our viewers on what you have learned as we await the president of the United States.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are on the road where the Lanza home is located and as you can probably see there are police lines behind me.

Police are keeping residents out, reporters out. There are more than a dozen law enforcement vehicles here. We did see an ambulance leaving the scene about 15 minutes ago. And what we can tell you from neighbors is this. They say that about 11:00, one neighbor told us police came and told her that they had to evacuate right away, left their home. Some people have been able to be escorted back to their homes, but then leaving again.

This is an active crime scene, and it's unclear when residents will be able to return to their homes. In terms of what people are saying about Ryan Lanza, I talked to several people here who live in the area, and they said they were unfamiliar with the...

BLITZER: We just lost our connection with Mary Snow. But we will reconnect with her.

David Ariosto, one of our CNN producers, is also on the scene.

David, where exactly are you in Newtown?

DAVID ARIOSTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm standing directly in front of the firehouse right now. And that's been essentially used as sort of a makeshift holding facility for a lot of these families and children and parents who essentially just are trying to cope with what has transpired.

I can count probably at least half a dozen emergency vehicles. So it is still very active scene down here. Helicopters flying overhead, FBI, ATF and local and state officials are all on scene as is the media here. As families walk out, many people tried to speak with them, but many are just inconsolable. You see people walking out, parents clutching their children, tears in their eyes, speaking on cell phones and just trying to convey the gravity of the situation here.

And I had an opportunity to speak with a local teacher, though not a teacher at the elementary school where the shooting took place, but in the nearby school system and she said the people move here often for the schools, so you have people coming from in and around the state for the quality of the education that students get in this area. And so it became such a shock when you see something like this transpire.

It is -- it really kind of leaves you at a loss for words, both what she said and in my own reporting here, it's just not something that you're accustomed to, to be reporting on -- on this many fatalities of children at that age at an elementary school -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're getting this horrific information from a source close to the investigation, David, and I want to be precise with our viewers.

The suspect in this case, Ryan Lanza, in his 20s, from Newtown, Connecticut, we're told that the suspect's mother was a teacher at this small school, the Sandy Hook Elementary School. And she, we're told by this source, has been shot and killed in this incident.

What a horrific, horrific development. All of a sudden, we're beginning to get a connection between Ryan Lanza, the shooter in this case, he himself died at the scene. We don't know precisely the circumstances, how he died, but we know he's dead. Ryan Lanza went into this school, started shooting children and adults. Close to 30 people have been killed, we're told maybe 18 or 20 of them children.

And now we're told that Ryan Lanza's mother, a teacher at this elementary school, was shot and killed herself.

David, I want you to hold on for a second, because you're outside that firehouse.

Inside the firehouse, trying to comfort these families as Rabbi Shaul Praver, who has a small congregation in Newtown, Connecticut.

Rabbi, are you succeeding, are you able to comfort some of the parents who are inside, some of whom may have lost their children?

RABBI SHAUL PRAVER, COMFORTING FAMILIES: They're very much in shock. It is very, very difficult. Some of them do not know the condition of their children at the moment. We're waiting. It is terrible anxiety. Some of them, we hope, will survive. They're at hospitals and the governor will come back and provide us more specific information at 3:00 or around then on their condition. It is very hard to console parents in this situation, but we're trying and members of our congregation, psychologists, social workers, have come immediately to try to help.

BLITZER: Rabbi, what do you say to parents who may have already been told that their little daughter or little son was killed?

PRAVER: There is no theological answer to this. What you have to do is hug them and just be with them and cry with them.

BLITZER: Are any of these families members of your congregation in Newtown?

PRAVER: We're waiting for the news on one child, Noah (ph). That's his name, and he's a first grader. And his classroom was near the principal's office, so we're worried about that. And we're waiting to see if he survived the attack or not.

BLITZER: How many parents, Rabbi, are inside that firehouse being consoled right now, awaiting word on the fate of their little children?

PRAVER: I'm sorry. I didn't hear the question.

BLITZER: I said, how many parents, how many family members are inside that firehouse where you are right now?

PRAVER: I would say at least 30 adults are here, so you have parents and then their parents are with them, supporting them. So there is at least 30, perhaps even more there.

It's hard to know exactly, you know, who is awaiting the news and who is there as a friend, so it is hard to give a precise number. But the room is pretty full.

BLITZER: And they're getting the information directly from Governor Malloy?

PRAVER: I don't really know how that all works. I just know that the governor briefed us all and said that he was going to tell us as soon as he found anything out and that he said that he would be back, you know, around 3:00. So I don't know if it is specifically the governor that is providing that information or not.

BLITZER: Rabbi Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown, Connecticut, he's in that firehouse. He's trying to console some of these parents who may have lost children in this mass shooting today at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Rabbi, we will continue our conversation. What a painful conversation it is. I'm sure it must be so painful for you to be with these family members, with these parents of children who may have been killed in this mass murder. That's what we have to call it. Susan Candiotti is on the scene for us as well.

Susan, are you getting more information on what happened?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. I have some new information to report now from two law enforcement sources that among the dead is the mother of the shooter in this case.

The mother of the shooter is also dead. She is a teacher at the school. Now, we don't have confirmed whether she was found dead at the school or at some other location. But two sources tell us that she, too, is among the dead. Also, some additional new information to report to you, Wolf, is that the shooter, Ryan Lanza, is 24 years old, 24 years old. To remind our viewers, he was found dead at the scene, in a classroom. And additionally, he was found with at least two weapons. I am hearing there may be even more weapons that were found.

And also, as we have previously reported, another person is being questioned by police in connection with this shooting, but we have no additional information on that at this time to report -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is the working assumption, and I know this information is preliminary, is subject to change, is the working assumption there among law enforcement, Susan, that Ryan Lanza, after opening fire, killing all these people, took his own life?

CANDIOTTI: That is the working assumption here. But we don't have that confirmed information that he took his own life. But that certainly is the working theory here. And so they have a lot of pieces to put together. We also know, for example, that authorities have been executing a search warrant at Ryan Lanza's home.

And they have been doing that for quite some time now. We have no information yet about what kind of information they have found, for example, had they found any additional weapons at the house. It is very likely that if he had a computer there, they certainly would have seized that and the hard drive and would be hard at work examining that, so common that so many of us have computers these days.

And so we're waiting for another update, and we hope to get more information, of course, in the coming minutes, hours. We will have to see. And as you know, the governor will also be holding a news conference, scheduled in less than an hour from now, expected to happen around 3:30 or so, Wolf.

BLITZER: And in the next few minutes, we will be hearing from President Obama at the White House as well.

But, Susan, quickly, I want to be precise on this. Is it your information that the shooter, Ryan Lanza, went to the school and among others actually shot his own mother there, that she is a teacher at this school, and you're now reporting she was shot and killed? I assume he must have shot her, but correct me if I am wrong.

CANDIOTTI: You know, the only information we have now is that his mother is a teacher at the school. And she was -- she has been found dead. Interestingly, we don't have our law enforcement sources telling us that she is among the dead at the school, only that she is dead.

BLITZER: What a horrific story. Susan, I know you will be working your sources, getting more information. Mary Snow is working her sources. She's outside the suspect's home in Newtown, Connecticut. We will check back with her. David Ariosto, our producer, is on the scene. We will check back with him.

But I want to go to our White House -- chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's in the White House Briefing Room right now, awaiting the president.

Set the scene over there. Momentarily, he will be walking out, making a statement, Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. In fact, we just got the two-minute warning here in the White House for the president to enter the press briefing room here and address this shooting.

Tragically, we have all too much experience of the president speaking to the nation after shooting rampages such as this one. And in these instances, he generally -- he often tries to bring it to a personal level, talk about that it is like as a father to relate to what -- to the experience that parents are feeling across the country right now, watching this story unfold, and try to tell a story from inside that school, usually tries to find a story of heroism, if he can, to reassure the nation that there are positive stories of American resilience.

But this is such a grim day, it is a hard one for the president, no doubt, and for the White House here, Wolf. The president found out about this at 10:30 this morning from his director of homeland security. He's received updates throughout the day. He spoke to the FBI director, to the Connecticut governor, and has been briefed consistently.

The White House has admonished us not to talk about policy and gun control issues today. This is a day for grieving and concern for the families of those involved. And I expect the president to come out here and make some brief remarks, Wolf, much more personal in nature -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We just have gotten word, release from the White House, that the president has ordered all flags flying at half-staff at the White House, all U.S. institutions, public grounds, all over the country. There you see the flag over the White House flying at half-staff right now.

In his order, he says: "I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length until December 18, 2012, same length of time at all U.S. embassies."

Here is the president. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 have 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 is 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 is 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 will tell them that we love them, and we will 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, the 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 a loved one, all of us can extend the 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.

BLITZER: Very, very emotional moment for the president of the United States, dare I say for all of America, much of the world right now.

You don't often see a president of the United States showing such emotion, wiping away tears as he speaks of these little kids, 5-to-10- year-old kids, the majority of the victims who were killed in this mass shooting in Connecticut today.

Got to tell you, I have covered a lot of presidents. I haven't seen a president emerge as emotionally charged. And this is a president who has two daughters he sends to school every day, like millions of other parents all over the country, how much they can identify with what is going on right now, this insanity that has occurred in this small elementary school in Connecticut today.

John King is joining with us more information.

John, you and I have covered presidents. Not often, dare I say, I don't remember a time I have seen a president start literally crying like that in the middle of a major statement.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As the president himself noted, Wolf, I think he was addressing the nation more as a father than as a president.

And I can -- I have been texting my teenage daughter all afternoon. I get what the president says about hugging your children a little tighter tonight. This is incomprehensible and that's one of the reasons the president was so sad as he delivered that statement right there. And as we get more information, Wolf, it becomes even more incomprehensible.

I'm told by federal law enforcement source that most of those killed were killed in the classroom of the alleged shooter's mother who was a teacher at the school, Nancy Lanza, and that he went into that classroom -- and, again this is according to police at the scene, reporting back to federal law enforcement officials here -- shot and killed his mother and then shot and killed students, and this source saying most of those killed were killed in that classroom.

And she was a kindergarten teacher at the school, Wolf. That is again the incomprehensible information we're getting as more and more details of the investigation emerge.

BLITZER: We're getting this information, John, as well, from our justice producer, Terry Frieden, and let me be precise in what he has learned.

A senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation, he tells us, says a brother of the shooter, the alleged shooter, was found dead in the residential location near -- searched in Hoboken, New Jersey, and that's across the river from New York City. In addition, the mother of the alleged shooter was found dead in the elementary school. The father who was divorced from Lanza's mother lives elsewhere in Connecticut, the official said. The official declined to provide further details.

So, John, now we're learning not only was the mother found dead, as you have been reporting, inside the small elementary school, the Sandy Hook Elementary School, and many of the children were who were killed were in her classroom. She was a teacher at this school, but the brother of the alleged shooter was found dead in a residential location in Hoboken, New Jersey.

This is getting obviously very, very -- even more awful than you can imagine.

KING: And you were spoken -- speaking, Wolf -- I'm sorry -- just a short time ago to that school security expert who predicted something similar to this, who said, as more details emerge, you're likely to find a profile of somebody who was having a very troubled issues in his or her family life.

We now know the shooter, of course, is a 24-year-old, I believe, young man, Ryan Lanza, according to police at the scene. And you have from Terry Frieden's reporting a brother killed. His mother, as I just noted, was a teacher at the school, and it is believed that she was the primary target, according to federal law enforcement officials and that he shot her and then shot children in her classroom at the school.

Most of the deaths I'm told by the law enforcement source occurred there in that one concentrated area of the school. And the police will try to put this together. And obviously there will be a detailed investigation into what thing or what things may have been the trigger here for this horrific event.

And that is part of the investigative detail they will try to put together, and it is always the big question. The president just asked it quite poignantly and I think parents around the country as well as all those law enforcement officials we're showing on our screens at the scene today will be asking a very short question: Why?

BLITZER: And we don't know. We have no idea, although I suspect we will learn a lot more in the coming minutes, hours and certainly days. John, stand by.

Jessica Yellin is our chief White House correspondent.

Jessica, you were in the Briefing Room when the president delivered that powerful, very emotional statement. We saw him repeatedly pausing, trying to control himself, wiping away tears as he spoke to the American people.

YELLIN: Wolf, I have simply never seen the president that emotional. Publicly, he's never cried like that in my presence. He was consistently wiping away tears, as you say.

Beautiful little kids, he called them, and pointed out, again, as he always does during these instances, but it seemed to really hit home for him here at the White House and for so many of his aides that we saw actually holding hands and crying by the side that he is a parent who can now go home and hug his children tonight, but these families cannot.

Obviously, this is not a story about the White House. But when he speaks as the consoler in chief, it is sort of representative of what so many people around the country are experiencing tonight. And this is, in a way, one of those stories that wrenches everybody out of the moment, out of the stories that we have been covering, and reminds us all that whatever partisan politics we have been going through and reporting on, this is a time to just pause and appreciate our families, appreciate what we do have, comfort those who are struggling right now and going through loss.

President Obama is clearly struggling to do that himself right now because he is clearly shaken by this personally. And I would point out that he did make a veiled reference to trying to take some action in the wake of this. He said, whatever our politics, we have to do something to make sure these tragedies stop.

We will have to follow up at another time to see exactly what that means for him, Wolf.

BLITZER: And there is no doubt that the president is not only emotionally moved. I suspect he's anxious to go to Connecticut, meet with these parents, console them at some point. I suspect that will be sooner, rather than later.

We're awaiting word now from the governor of Connecticut, Dannel Malloy. He will be speaking momentarily.

Let's take this quick break. We will resume the breaking news coverage right after this.


BLITZER: Horrific pictures coming in from Connecticut, from a small elementary school, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where a shooter, Ryan Lanza, 24 years old, went into that school, and started killing people.

We are now told, according to law enforcement authorities, the suspected gunman shot his mother, a teacher, at the school, then opened fire on children in that classroom and others inside. We're told close to 30 people have been confirmed killed, maybe 18 or 20 of them children.

We're also told that the mother of Ryan Lanza, Nancy Lanza, was shot and killed in this classroom, as well as earlier the brother of Ryan Lanza in a residential area of Hoboken, New Jersey.