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US classroom wipeout feared after shooting

Children in shock outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday. (Reuters)

Newtown, Dec. 14: As many as 27 people, including 20 children, were killed by a gunman on Friday morning at a school in Connecticut’s Newtown, one of the wealthiest counties in the US and counted among the safest places in the country.

The Hartford Courant reported one entire classroom was unaccounted for. The principal and school psychologist were among the dead, CNN said.

Wildly conflicting reports swirled around the fate and identity of the gunman.

The gunman, believed to be in his 20s, walked into a classroom where his mother was a teacher. He shot and killed her and then shot 18 students in the classroom. He also shot several adults. The gunman then killed himself inside the school, according to The New York Times.

CNN reported that a man called Ryan Lanza had been identified as the gunman. But a person claiming to be Lanza took to a Facebook page and said: “I’m on the bus home now, it wasn’t me.”

A friend of Lanza was quoted as saying Lanza thinks his developmentally disabled brother may have committed the crime, according to local news website Newtown Patch. Conflicting reports emerged about the brother, too: one said he was found dead in New Jersey while another said he had been detained for questioning.

If the casualties are confirmed, it will be one of the worst school shootings in America’s history.

The school — Sandy Hook Elementary — in Newtown teaches children from kindergarten through fourth grade — roughly aged 5 to 10. With a population of about 27,000, Newtown is around 130km from New York City.

A woman breaks down as she waits to hear about her sister, a teacher, in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday. (AP)

Photos from the scene showed students — some crying, others looking frightened — being escorted by adults through a parking lot in a line.

A 9-year-old student said he was in the gym when the shooting erupted. “We were in the gym, and I heard really loud bangs,’’ said the boy, as he stood shivering and weeping outside the school with his father’s arms draped around him.

“We thought that someone was knocking something over. And we heard yelling, and we heard gunshots. We heard lots of gunshots. We heard someone say, ‘Put your hands up.’ I heard, ‘Don’t shoot.’ We had to go into the closet in the gym. Then someone came and told us to run down the hallway. There were police at every door. There were lots of people crying and screaming,” the child added.

Anguished parents came running when they heard the news. “It was horrendous,” said parent Brenda Lebinski, who rushed to the school where her daughter is in the third grade. “Everyone was in hysterics — parents, students. There were kids coming out of the school bloodied. I don’t know if they were shot, but they were bloodied.”

Stephen Delgiadice said his 8-year-old daughter heard two big bangs, and teachers told her to get in a corner. His daughter was fine. “It’s alarming, especially in Newtown, Connecticut, which we always thought was the safest place in America,” he said.

The school, located among wooded hills and suburban tracts, has about 700 students. “It’s just a little country school,”’ said Robert Place, 65, as he stood near the scene. “The look is very 1950s or 1960s. One floor. It’s always had a good reputation. People come to Newtown for the schools.'’

The school’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was reportedly one of those shot. But at the home of her daughter Cristina Hassinger, the family was still awaiting news.

“We’re looking for any hope,” said Ryan Hassinger, the son-in-law of the principal. “If she’s in the hospital, any chance is better.”

A tearful President Barack Obama, his voice breaking at times, expressed “overwhelming grief”. He called on Americans to “take meaningful action” to prevent more tragedies of this kind.