'There are no more alive,' Police officer's terrible words... followed by a guttural wail of pure despair
By Sharon Churcher and Caroline Graham
PUBLISHED: 20:36 EST, 15 December 2012 | UPDATED: 06:58 EST, 16 December 2012
For more than an hour, amid mass panic and confusion, scores of frantic parents raced to Sandy Hook Elementary School, desperate to find out if their children had survived the massacre.
They were directed to a fire station 500 yards away, where the terrified children were being led to safety – and tearful reunions.
But shortly after 11am, around 90 minutes after the first shots had been fired, a young police officer stood at the door of the fire station: 'I'm sorry, there are no more children,' he said quietly.
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It was at that moment that the parents still waiting realised all hope had gone. The innocent children they had waved goodbye to that morning were never coming home.
A guttural wail of pure agony and despair rose from the group; an anguish that could be heard from outside the building. Mothers collapsed sobbing to the ground
For Monsignor Robert Weiss, priest of St Rose of Lima Catholic Church, who was inside the fire station, it is a heartbreaking memory indelibly etched in his mind.
'The wailing started. I will never forget that sound,' he said, tears welling in his eyes. 'They fell to their knees sobbing. That was the most terrible moment of all. What do you say to those parents?'
Father Bob, as he is universally known in this tight-knit community, has spent the long hours since then ministering to the families of the dead. Ten families come from his congregation.
He described a gut-wrenching scene in the aftermath of the shooting. First there were shrieks of joy as mothers and fathers were reunited with their children, hugging and kissing them in utter relief.
But as the time went on, the parents whose children were unaccounted for huddled together in increasing despair.
Six-year-olds James Mattioli (left) and Jessica Rekos (right) were also among the victims
Finally, when there were no more children they were led into a back room where a list of the missing presumed dead was made.
Father Bob said: 'I saw the list. There was palpable devastation in that room. Someone's life was just broken, someone's guts were just ripped out.'
One mother told the priest her little girl was to have played an angel in the Christmas pageant. Another child had chosen the dress she would wear at her upcoming Communion.
'I baptised some of these children', he said, 'How could this happen? And Why? We know there is no answer. We have 20 new saints today.'
NBC reporter Ann Curry told how she witnessed parents being escorted from the fire station into the school to formally identify their children: 'They were led, two by two, from the back of the firehouse into the school where the formal identification was made. You can only begin to imagine what that was like for them.'
Neil Heslin was one of those who raced to the school, only to find his six-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among the victims. 'I dropped him off at school at 9am. He went happily,' Heslin said last night 'That was the last I saw of him.'
Jesse was in teacher Victoria Soto's class. She also perished. Mr Heslin, 50, said parents were first alerted to the shooting by a 'reverse 911' call, which sends out emergency alerts to a specific area.
'There was a message saying there had been an incident so I rushed to the school,' he said. 'These were helpless little children. The question is why? I guess it's something we will never know.'
Last night, details started to emerge of those who perished in the massacre along with tales of the heroism shown by the teachers who died shielding their pupils and those who miraculously survived.
Library clerk Maryanne Jacob saved dozens of children by locking them in a storeroom when the shooting started. She told how she heard a commotion as gunman Adam Lanza opened fire: 'He walked into the front of the building and turned left. He was by the first classroom.'
She said she noticed the school intercom was on and called the principal's office: 'I called the office and they told me there was shooting.
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'I could hear some scuffling over the intercom. I hung up the phone and said “Lock down!” I got some paper and gave the children something to do, to keep them calm and quiet. I told them they needed to stay quiet. I led them to the library storeroom and barricaded them in.
'I didn't open it even when the police hammered on the door, not until I was sure it was the police.'
Initially, Lanza's older brother Ryan had been named as the killer after his ID was discovered on his brother's body. However, it later emerged that the 24-year-old accountant was at work at Ernst & Young in New York when he learned of the shootings He later wrote several posts on his Facebook page proclaiming his innocence.
He was being questioned by police last night, but told them he has not seen his brother for two years.
Last night, just three of the 20 children who died had been formally identified:
ANA MARQUEZ-GREENE, SEVEN: The bubbly daughter of a professional jazz musician, Ana loved dancing, music and painting. Her father, Jimmy Greene said he 'could not find the words' to describe his grief.
Her grandfather Jorge Marquez said: 'We spent all day waiting for news, hoping that she was just wounded. But her parents gave us the sad news. We are heartbroken.'
Ana's older brother Isaiah was inside the school when the attack happened too, but escaped unharmed. The family only moved to the area two months ago from Canada.
GRACE McDONNELL, SIX: Described as 'utterly adorable' and a 'ray of sunshine' by a neighbour who said her hair was so blonde and her eyes so blue 'she looked like a perfect little doll.'
Her mother Lynn, 45, is a housewife and father Christopher, 49, a businessman. The family live just one street away from the shooter's home and can see it from their back garden.
Neighbour Dorothy Werden said: 'I just choke up when I think about it. Grace was like a little doll. She was utterly adorable. I used to see her waiting for the school bus over the road from our house.
'When I saw Lynn and Christopher at the school with Lynn being pysically supported by a nun I knew things were not good.'
JESSE LEWIS, SIX: Jesse had been excitedly telling his father Neil Heslin how he planned to make gingerbread houses at school that day. He also loved maths and riding horses.
His father said: 'He was just a happy boy. Everybody knew Jesse. He was going to go places in life. He did well in school.
'He loved playing on his mum's farm. He was terrific with animals. He's been on horses since he was a year-and-a-half old.'
VIDEO: Heartbreaking home video of Ana Marquez-Greene with her brother