NEWTOWN, CT —Minutes before releasing a heart-wrenching list of those who perished in Friday’s mass shooting in Newtown, state officials reviewed some of the harrowing, gruesome details of what appears to have happened inside an elementary school where 20 children and six adults were shot dead by a lone gunman who then killed himself.
Responding to difficult questions posed by a national media corps that descended just one day earlier on this normally quiet town about 60 miles northeast of New York City, the Connecticut chief medical examiner described how and where the bullets entered the children, what the kids were wearing and how he felt about what he’d seen inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“This probably is the worst I have seen or the worst that I know any of my colleagues having seen,” said Dr. H. Wayne Carver II of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where he’s been working for 31 years including 26 as chief.
Carver said he saw no difference in the pattern of shooting deaths between children and adults inside the school.
The weapon used primarily in the shootings was a long rifle, Carver said, and victims young and old were shot “all over” with some at close range and some not.
“I only did seven of the autopsies, the victims I had ranged from three to 11 wounds apiece and I only saw two of them with close range shooting,” Carver said.
The shooter who wielded that gun—discovered dead inside the building Friday with a rifle and two smaller guns near his body, police have said—has been widely reported to be Adam Lanza, 20. His motives remain unclear; state police are investigating.
Carver said he would complete autopsies on the shooter and the shooter’s mother, widely reported to be Nancy Lanza of Sandy Hook, on Sunday morning.
All bodies were removed from the school before dawn Saturday and transported to the medical examiner's base in Farmington—about 40 miles away. The children’s autopsies were performed first so that their bodies could be made available to funeral directors “for obvious reasons,” Carver said.
Asked whether the shooting victims at the school suffered, Carver responded: “To best of my ability to answer that question, which is always less than perfect: If so, not for very long.”
The graphic, detailed information seemed to fly in the face of a more private tone that Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra was trying to set when she preceded Carver at the podium.
Calling Newtown a “close-knit community” whose heart is broken in the wake of a “horrendous tragedy,” Llodra called for media members to respect the privacy of residents, including those grieving for lost loved ones.
“Please treat our community with kindness,” Llodra said. “Please know that we have suffered a terrible loss and we need your respect on this healing journey.”
Carver called the injuries to shooting victims “a very devastating set.”
Relatives identified their loved ones not in person but by photos taken of the victims’ faces, Carver said.
“We did not bring the bodies and families into contact, we took pictures of them, of their facial features,” he said. “It’s easier on the families when you do that. There is a time and place for up close and personal in the grieving process but to accomplish this we felt it would be best to do it this way.”
At one point a reporter asked Carver what the children were wearing, to which he replied: “They were wearing cute kids’ stuff. I mean they’re first-graders.”
Carver also was asked whether he became emotional among the bodies of so many victims, mostly children, and told the corps “Not yet.”
“I think if you don’t’ have to do that, you shouldn’t be in this business,” he said. “For this one, not yet. Notice I said ‘yet.’ “
Lt. J. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police echoed Llodra’s imploring for privacy, reminding people as he had at an earlier press conference that a state trooper has been assigned to each individual family of the victims. One new piece of information that Vance supplied in response to a reporter’s question was that investigators found no evidence of an altercation in the school involving the gunman.