The Connecticut mass murderer used an assault rifle to slaughter his 26 victims, spraying dozens of bullets into a helpless group of first-graders and staff, officials said Saturday.
The grisly details of killer Adam Lanza’s gory rampage emerged one day after the shooter unleashed the second-deadliest school killing in U.S. history.
The tiny victims were riddled by as many as 11 bullets.
Lanza forced his way inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire with a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle — an assault weapon that can fire up to six bullets per second. The victims were shot “all over,” said Connecticut state Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carter II. “All over . . . this is probably the worst I’ve ever seen.”
Sixteen of the slain students were 6-year-olds, while four were just 7. Victim Josephine Gay, one of a dozen slain girls, celebrated her seventh birthday just three days before Lanza walked into her classroom. Carter, asked if the carnage left him in tears, replied, “Not yet.”
Carter said the shooter seemed to fire both randomly and accurately during his two-minute tear. The six slain school staffers were all women.
The father of 6-year-old Emilie Parker, choking back tears, recalled his “bright, creative, very loving” daughter at a news conference where he sent condolences to the family of the killer. “I can’t imagine how hard this must be for them,” said Robbie Parker. “I’m not mad.”
Investigators searching around the clock for a motive uncovered “very good evidence” inside the school and the nearby home where Lanza, 20, fatally shot his mother, said Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance.
Without going into detail, Vance said the findings will help “in painting the complete picture — the how and, more importantly, the why.”
He refuted a report that Lanza fought with teachers inside the Newtown elementary school one day before showing up dressed in black camouflage and a military-style vest.
Investigators will continue working at the murder scene through at least Monday, the lieutenant added.
The names of the victims were made public after family members identified their loved ones from photos taken inside the school where they were gunned down. The bodies were then released as the town braced for a series of heart-breaking funerals.
The tony New England burg of 27,000 was plunged into deep mourning, with some resident taking down their Christmas decorations. “God Bless The Families” read a spray-painted message on a piece of plywood. “Hug A Teacher” declared another.
While the nation and President Obama were left in tears, the pain stung more deeply in Newtown as the names of the dead became public.
Sports-loving Chase Kowalski, the 7-year-old baby of his family, left behind two older sisters. His relatives gathered to mourn the loss of the bright-eyed child.
“He was an amazing little boy,” said one neighbor. “He was biking in his yard all the time . . . he loved to run and bike. He was a beautiful little boy.”
The neighbor, whose five kids all attended Sandy Hook, said she was with the Kowalskis when they received the news that every parent in town feared. “It was just awful,” she said. “It’s your worst nightmare. They’re a beautiful family. Nobody deserves this.”
The grim scene was repeated over and over as families dealt with the staggering loss. Neighbors delivered food and compassion to the family of victim Daniel Barden, 7.
“You just wish you could give them their son back,” said neighbor Cindy Stierle. “He was just this cute little cherub. He was just a sweet little kid. They would sell lemonade in the summer.”
Tales of heroism among the slain school staff emerged from the inexplicable bloodbath.
Killed in one classroom was first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, who threw herself in front of the gunman’s bullets to spare several kids from certain death.
Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, was blasted when she lunged at Lanza in a bid to disarm the killer.
A next-door neighbor at Soto’s Stratford, Conn., home recalled her as a friendly face eager to offer a helping hand. “She was beautiful,” the neighbor said Saturday. “She helped me do the yard. When she noticed I was sick, she helped me.”
Asked about Soto’s ultimate sacrifice, the neighbor expressed his admiration. “It’s incredible,” he said. “I’m going to miss hearing her truck pull up. She was so beautiful. The prettiest thing.”
Neighbor Louise Ortega said she hoped to start a fund to cover Soto’s funeral expenses. “I’m not surprised,” she said of Soto’s heroism. “I’m a nanny, and your instincts kick in to protect your kids.”
Soto, 27, was one of three teachers killed inside the school, along with the principal and Mary Sherlach, a school psychologist.
Autopsies were still pending on the bodies of the killer and his mother, Nancy. A local bartender said the slain woman was a three-times-a-week regular and a huge Boston Red Sox fan.
“She liked sports,” said Mike Agius, 26, who works at My Place. “She would talk to anyone.”
While Nancy Lanza spoke about her 24-year-old son Ryan, of Hoboken, N.J., she had nothing to say about the 20-year-old who lived with her in a pleasant Newtown neighborhood. “She never mentioned her youngest son,” said Agius. “Just her oldest one.”
The weapons used in the killings were all registered to Nancy Lanza. Her homicidal son, armed with the assault rifle and two 9-mm. handguns, drove his slain mom’s car to the school.
Contrary to earlier reports, Lanza never worked at the school where her son appeared Friday morning.