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Associated Press
A basketball, soccer ball, doll, flowers and a child’s drawing sit at a memorial for shooting victims outside Saint Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church on Saturday in Newtown, Conn.

‘The worst I have seen’

Autopsies describe Connecticut carnage: Victims were struck multiple times with semiautomatic rifle

Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Candles are lit during a vigil Saturday night at the Allen County Courthouse in honor of the lives lost in Newtown, Conn.
Associated Press
From left, Jean Bradley, Steven Turchetta, 9, Matthew Bradley, 9, Ashton Baltes, 10, and Elonda Baltes pay their respects at a memorial for shooting victims near the school.

– The gunman who killed 27 people, including 20 children, on Friday targeted a school to which he had no apparent connection – forcing his way in and spraying classrooms with a weapon designed to kill across a battlefield, authorities said.

On Saturday, law enforcement officials gave new details about the rampage of Adam Lanza, which ended with Lanza’s suicide. Their new narrative partially contradicted previous ones, and made a baffling act seem more so.

Lanza’s mother, for instance, was not a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, after all. She apparently was unemployed. So it was still a mystery why her son – after dressing in black, killing his mother, and taking at least three guns from her collection – drove the five miles to a school where he was a stranger.

The part of the story that remained grimly, awfully unchanged was what Lanza did when he got there.

Authorities on Saturday released the names of those Lanza killed at the school, who ranged in age from 6 to 56. And the state’s medical examiner – speaking in sanitized, clinical terms – described the results of something deeply obscene: a semiautomatic rifle fired inside an elementary classroom.

“I’ve been at this for a third of a century. And my sensibilities may not be the average man’s. But this probably is the worst I have seen,” said H. Wayne Carver II. Carver described the children’s injuries, which he said ranged from at least two to 11 bullet wounds apiece.

He had performed seven of the autopsies himself. A reporter asked what the children had been wearing. “They’re wearing cute kid stuff,” Carver said. “I mean, they’re first-graders.”

On Saturday, this small New England town and the country played out what is now a familiar ritual: the dumbstruck aftermath of a young gunman’s massacre. Word came that President Obama would arrive today for an evening interfaith service, repeating a familiar role, as chief mourner.

People who had known Lanza described him as odd, nervous and withdrawn, and searched their memories for signs they’d missed. Memorials went up. Politicians talked – a little more forcefully this time – about how someone needed to be brave enough to talk about guns and gun control.

And, in Newtown, they started funeral preparations. This time, the ritual was for lives so new that it seemed impossible to speak of them in the past tense.

“He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Rabbi Shaul Praver of Adath Israel, who said that his congregation lost a first-grade boy. “His little body could not endure so many bullets like that.”

On Saturday, law enforcement officials said that Lanza had entered the school by force sometime after 9:30 a.m. Friday. Sandy Hook’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung, had recently installed a new security system in which the school doors were kept locked all day starting at 9:30. But Lanza had apparently shattered the glass in a window or door.

Lanza was carrying at least three guns from a collection maintained by his mother, who friends said enjoyed target shooting. Lanza had two pistols, a Glock and a Sig Sauer.

But he apparently chose a larger weapon, a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle. This rifle fires one bullet for every pull of the trigger and sends a slug out at an unusually high speed. Authorities said Lanza fired dozens and dozens of times in a spree that lasted minutes.

“All the wounds that I know of at this point were caused by the long rifle,” Carver, the medical examiner, said.

He said he saw multiple wounds on the bodies of those he examined, and based on his conversations with colleagues, “I believe everybody was hit more than once.”

When police arrived, Lanza was dead. So were Hochsprung and five other adults. So were 18 children. Two more later died of their wounds at a local hospital.

Sixteen of the 20 children were just 6 years old. The other four were 7.

Later, when investigators went to the home that Lanza shared with his mother, Nancy Lanza was found dead there – the first victim of the killings.

On Saturday, authorities said they had “very good evidence” regarding Adam Lanza’s motives. But they didn’t say what that evidence was.

Those who knew Lanza were left to puzzle.

“He was very, very quiet, reserved, shy, kept to himself,” said Marsha Moskowitz, his middle school bus driver. “He’d say hello and good-bye and that was about it.”

Around the country, advocates for stronger gun-control laws said they hoped that the shock of this crime would start a debate that other mass shootings had not. Still, with so little known about Adam Lanza and the guns he used, it was difficult to say what sort of law, precisely, was needed to prevent another shooting like Friday’s.

“If having dozens of people gunned down in an elementary school doesn’t motivate Washington to do even the easy things they can do, it’s not clear what will,” said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group that represents 750 mayors across the country and is chaired by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a political independent.

Politics will come later, once the country has become used to the idea that this had actually happened. In Newtown on Saturday, the shooting still seemed to dwell in the realm of the unthinkable.

“The emotions of yesterday were just absolutely overwhelming,” Monsignor Robert Weiss of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown said in an interview Saturday with NBC News. “I don’t know if the reality has really settled in yet.”

Weiss had accompanied police when they notified parents that their children had been killed. They asked him questions that most likely would never have answers.

“What were the last moments of these people’s lives like? They were wondering, did the child even know what was happening, were they afraid, did they see something coming?” Weiss told NBC. “And of course no one can answer that question because there were no survivors, so these parents are left with those unanswered questions in addition to just why this had to happen – why to their child?”

One parent, Robbie Parker, spoke to reporters Saturday evening about the death of his eldest daughter, Emilie. He said the blonde, blue-eyed girl could light up a room and never had a bad word to say about anyone.

“All those who had the pleasure to meet her would agree that the world was better because she was in it,” Parker said.

He recalled the last time he saw Emilie, on Friday morning as he headed to work.

“She said that she loved me, and she gave me a kiss, and I was out the door.”