BARACK Obama wept as he spoke of “overwhelming grief” after a gunman killed 20 children during a shooting spree at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.
The suspect, named as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot dead 26 people, including his own mother, Nancy, who was a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Police said Lanza was also found dead, while his brother Ryan is being questioned.
Lieutenant Paul Vance said 18 children were pronounced dead at the school, and two died after they were taken to hospital. Six adults were also killed.
One person was injured, and police were investigating a “secondary” crime scene where another victim was found dead, Lt Vance added.
Officials also said Lanza’s girlfriend and another friend were missing in New Jersey.
Addressing the nation five hours after the mass shooting, President Obama wiped away tears as he said: “Our hearts are broken today, for the parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers of these children, and for the families of the adults who were lost.
“This evening, Michelle [the First Lady] and I will hug our children a little tighter, and we’ll tell them that we love them.”
In an extraordinary show of emotion at a White House press conference, President Obama added: “I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.
“As a country we have been through this too many times.”
Mergim Bajraliu, a 17-year-old high school student, said he was at his home nearby when he heard two shots.
He and a neighbour ran to the school to find his nine-year-old sister, Venesa.
“My heart sank,” he said, describing seeing two students covered in blood being carried out of the building, one of whom looked like his sister, who was not hurt during the incident. Lt Vance said the shootings took place in two rooms at the school, which teaches children aged from five to ten.
Witnesses reported hearing dozens of shots – some said as many as 100 rounds.
“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.”
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 came in July at a midnight screening of a Batman film in Colorado in which 12 people were killed and 58 wounded.
In 2007, 32 people were killed at Virginia Tech university in the deadliest act of gun violence in American history.