Twenty-six people, including 20 children, have been killed after a shooting at a primary school in the US state of Connecticut, officials say.
The shooting occurred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, which is in the western part of Connecticut, on Friday morning. The school had been evacuated and police had secured the scene, reported Al Jazeera's Cath Turner from the scene.
Church vigils are being held in Newtown, where residents and victims' families have gathered to pay their respects and mourn the dead.
|Increased frquency of US mass shootings
Lieutenant Paul Vance, spokesperson for the state police, confirmed the number of fatalities, adding that another adult had been killed at a "secondary crime scene", which authorities said was the home of the shooter.
The gunman, said to be in his 20s, was also deceased, he said.
The gunman has not been formally identified by police.
The incident is the deadliest shooting at a primary or secondary school in US history, Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher reported from Washington DC.
"A man walked into the school office and began shooting. He has been found dead, and there were two handguns by his side," reported Fisher.
Three children were treated for their injuries at the local hospital in Danbury, with two of them succumbing to their wounds. All of those killed at the school, the police said, were shot in two rooms.
A second suspect was arrested after a search operation by the police in a nearby wooded area, reported Al Jazeera's Turner.
The school superintendent's office said that all schools in the the district of Newtown, where the shooting took place, had been locked down in order to ensure the safety of students and staff.
Lieutenant Vance said that both state and local police had been deployed to secure the site of the attack, and that site was now "secure".
The local Newtown Bee newspaper posted a photo of a group of young students - some crying, others looking frightened - being escorted by adults through a parking lot in a line, hands on each other's shoulders.
|Children looked on in horror after they
were evacuated from the school [Reuters]
Stephen Delgiadice said his eight-year-old daughter heard two big bangs and teachers told her to get in a corner. His daughter was not injured.
"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."
Mergim Bajraliu, 17, heard the gunshots echo from his home and raced to check on his nine-year-old sister at the school. He said his sister, who was uninjured, heard a scream come over the intercom at one point. He said teachers
were shaking and crying as they came out of the building.
"Everyone was just traumatised," he said.
Richard Wilford said his seven-year-old son, Richie, said he heard a noise that "sounded like what he described as cans falling". The boy told him a teacher went out to check on the noise, came back in, locked the door and had the kids huddle up in the corner until police arrived.
"There's no words," Wilford said. "It's sheer terror, a sense of imminent danger, to get to your child and be there to protect him."
State police said Newtown police called them at about 9:40am local time (13:40 GMT) about the reports.
American flags on Capitol Hill in Washington DC have been lowered to half-mast in the wake of the attack.
Gun control advocates gathered outside the White House as dusk fell on Friday, holding candles, praying and demanding action from the US President.
|Obama wiped tears from his eyes as he spoke of
the "overwhelming grief" at the loss of life
A visibly moved Barack Obama delivered a short address to the nation following the tragedy, expressing his condolences to the families of the victims, saying that the US had seen "too many of these tragedies in the past few years".
"We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," Obama said.
He said that the federal government was providing "every single resource that [the state government] needs to investigate this heinous crime, care for the victims [and] counsel their families".
Newtown, with a population about 27,000, is in northern Fairfield County, about 72km southwest of Hartford and 129km northeast of New York City.
Sandy Hook serves children in kindergarten through fourth grade, roughly ages five to 10. It is one of four elementary
schools in the district. The town also has a grade 5-6 school, a middle school and a high school.
The United States has experienced a number of mass shooting rampages this year, most recently in Oregon, where a gunman opened fire at a shopping mall on Tuesday, killing two people and then himself.
The deadliest attack came in July at a midnight screening of a film in Colorado. Twelve people died in that attack.